The next USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson leaps ahead a year in scheduling, as organizers preserve the rotation of prestigious dance competitions globally, and also make up for time lost to pandemic-related disruptions.
Dates for the 12th USA IBC are June 10-24, 2023. The Jackson competition, held every four years, had originally been slated for summer 2022.
The move to 2023 puts Jackson in the best position to attract about 100 elite dancers from around the world, to converge on the Thalia Mara Hall stage and compete for medals, cash prizes, scholarships and the eye of ballet company directors with job offers in mind.
The schedule change averts a 2022 pile-up that could have crowded three global IBCs into a single summer, diluting the pool of competing dancers and the draw for jury members and dance fans.
International ballet competitions held in Varna, Bulgaria, in Helsinki, Finland, and in Moscow, Russia, are often considered sister competitions with Jackson’s because of their similar formats, longevity, reputation and prestige. Varna’s IBC is a biennial event; the others are held every four years.
“USA IBC leaders worked with our sister competitions in three countries to develop new, coordinated schedules and ensure that, despite the pandemic, dancers who had trained for years would still be able to compete and the world would still have the opportunity to come together for these celebrations of art and athleticism, said USA IBC Executive Director Mona Nicholas.
Talks about scheduling began June 16. Leaders of Jackson and its sister competitions, in a Zoom call with translators, faced the prospect that Helsinki’s IBC (canceled for 2020) could only reschedule for 2022. Sponsorship concerns, ballet and opera calendar workarounds there, and planned theater renovations boxed them in for June 2022.
“Literally, it was the only date they could do it,” Nicholas said. Their final round would have overlapped competitor arrivals in Jackson. Varna’s IBC, also postponed from 2020, was set for July 2022. Timing-wise, “It was going to be a disaster,” with competitions competing with each other for dancers, jurors, audience and more.
The idea to volunteer a Jackson date change came to USA IBC leaders during the call, Nicholas said. They still had to take the notion to the USA IBC board of directors, and weigh pros and cons with their artistic committee.
“Within seconds, it dawned on me, it was the absolute right thing to do,” said Carol Puckett, USA IBC board chairman. Also, “It gave us another year to regroup from COVID-19 and get back on our fundraising plan.”
USA IBC decided to move its competition year to 2023. They relayed the proposed schedule in a second Zoom meeting July 21 with sister competition leaders, leading the way toward a solution. “I can’t tell you how thankful the other parties were when we said we were going to reschedule,” Nicholas said.
“The power of networking in the ballet world is so important,” Puckett said, “and this is a great example.” USA IBC’s focus on relationships with other competitions in recent years includes its membership in the International Federation of Ballet Competitions since 2017.
Partners in Varna, Moscow and Helsinki agreed they should work together to make the competitions as accessible as possible, Nicholas said. “The pandemic affected the entire world, with countries closing borders and the arts temporarily dark. Now more than ever, the people of the world need art. We need events that unify us and remind us that there is still beauty in the world. These competitions do just that.”
USA IBC International Jury Chairman John Meehan said the change to 2023 brings greater certainty “that things will be back to normal, and dancers will actually have time to prepare for the competition. So much is up in the air still, and dancers have been without studios for so long and that means they’re out of shape, and not able to prepare for the competition.
“It gives us a real amount of time to pretty much be sure that things will be back to normal, so we can have a full audience and well-prepared dancers.”
“It’s good for us,” Nicholas said, “because we wanted to make sure the schedule gets worked out and we don’t have three competitions in one year,” that dancers can get back in the swing of their daily routines and “hopefully” the travel industry returns to normal.
The extra year for fundraising (at a standstill in the pandemic) also adds another year of expenses. “I will just have to fundraise extra hard,” Nicholas said, “but the economic impact for Jackson is very important, and so we need to have as many people here, as many dancers participate” as possible. “If we wait longer, it will ensure that we have the numbers that we need.” The 2018 USA IBC generated a total economic impact of $12.5 million in Mississippi.
The coronavirus pandemic meant canceling an international trip with patrons that would have taken in Helsinki’s IBC and more last summer, plus postponing plans for a performance by the Washington Ballet that had been set for Oct. 15. “It will be a fundraiser,” Nicholas said of the performance, “and we are hoping that we can completely reschedule when things get back to normal.”
Friends of the USA IBC, unable to hold its annual Kentucky Derby Party because of COVID-19 concerns, will have a virtual membership party in early November. In another fundraiser, Friends of the USA IBC will sell Christmas cards featuring holiday images by late artist Andrew Bucci.
USA IBC is continuing its CityDance free ballet classes for Jackson Public School students, with a few pandemic-related adjustments. The program is open to children who were in the program last year, with classes following health guidelines for limited class size, masks, sanitation and more. “We’re going to try our best to accommodate and adapt, so that these kids can keep on moving,” Nicholas said. CityDance is proceeding with about 40 students, rather than its usual 80. Friends of the USA IBC and the Jackson-MS Chapter of The Links help with the extra volunteers needed to manage the new precautions.
The USA IBC is designated as the official international ballet competition in the United States by a Joint Resolution of Congress. In 2018, the event drew 40,400 attendees over two weeks, with ticket-holders from 35 states and 25 countries packing Thalia Mara Hall to see the dazzling artistry and athleticism of 100 ballet competitors from 17 nations.