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WHEN Dirk Badenhorst started the competition seven years ago, he had to charm competitors and judges into coming to South Africa, by persuading the teachers.
Now those very same teachers are its best ambassadors, telling their dancers about the good time they had in Cape Town and Joburg.
Badenhorst, founder and chief executive of the South African International Ballet Competition, recounts the story of a Korean dancer who was a judge at the 2008 competition. He overheard her singing the praises of Cape Town as paradise when he last saw her in New York.
“We’re going to have between 30 and 35 international entrants,” he said about the fourth competition, which takes place on February 17 to 23 at Artscape.
Now that the City of Cape Town has relinquished naming rights and Badenhorst has secured sponsorship from the National Lotteries Board, rotating the competition among cities is viable, opening up tourism possibilities.
It has taken years to build the brand to the point where it is becoming known around the world. The number of international entrants “shows the level of support we have outside of South Africa”.
“Six of the judges are directors of international schools, some of the big schools, so they’re starting to come to look at the potential of South African entrants.”
Dawn Weller, a former ballerina at PACT Ballet and the artistic director of PACT Ballet/State Theatre Ballet from 1983 to 2000, is now the director of Australia’s Graduate College of Dance. She is one of those judges.
Weller said the cue for the judging criteria would be the panel chairman’s requirements, but ballet competitions were similar around the world in that “if somebody is good, somebody is good and you can see it”.
International ballet competitions were useful because they allowed young dancers to benchmark themselves against their peers.
“Swimmers, tennis players, anyone driving for excellence has to mature early and for a dancer, our important time of training is our younger years.
“It doesn’t suit everybody and I’m not saying that someone who doesn’t do competitions won’t have a career in dance. Some people aren’t competition type people, it depends on your mindset.”
As in Australia, South African dancers are affected by not having easy access to Europe, so an international competition helps teachers and students alike to keep up to date with the latest training techniques.
“They’ll be in the dressing room and somebody will stretch in a different way, or they will watch someone do a variation… they’ll see different ways of doing things.
“It’s very much a time to share things and among the dancers backstage there’s a strong camaraderie. Of course, it’s nerve-racking and they understand what the next one is going through,” said Weller.
Next year, the competition will include participants from Switzerland, Cuba, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, China and South Africa, with R340 000 in prize money across three categories.
Dancers aged 21 to 28 dance in the seniors category and those aged 16 to 20 in the junior category. A first for next year’s competition is the inclusion of the scholar category for dancers aged 12 to 15, which has 25 potential entrants, according to Badenhorst.
While the senior category is about proving the employability of the dancers to potential companies, the outcome of the younger categories is about spotting talent and the potential to become great dancers.
“Most of them have been inspired to enter by the competition over the past seven years. It’s finally achieving what I set out to do – inspiring young artists and their parents and teachers to realise we have to work at a high level and benchmark against international standards,” said Badenhorst.
Dancers in the three categories compete for gold, silver and bronze medals and substantial cash prizes.
The elimination rounds take place on February 20 at 6pm; the finals are on February 21 at 7.30pm and the awards evening, when the top five dancers in each category will compete for gold, silver and bronze medal placement and cash prizes, takes place on February 22 at 7.30pm.
The gala performances on February 23 at 3pm and at 7.30pm will showcase the competition winners, the Young Korean Ballet Stars from South Korea and the top dancers from the National Ballet School of Cuba.
Tickets cost R60 each for the elimination rounds and from R150 to to R350 each for the finals, awards and gala evenings. Book through Computicket or 0861 915 8000.