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The USA International Ballet Competition, or USA IBC, is one of the world's top competitions for ballet. Located in Jackson, Mississippimarker, this competition is attended by dancers from all over the world to represent their country for bronze, silver, or gold medals in a variety of categories of ballet in an Olympic-style competition.

Founded in 1978 by Thalia Mara [213400], the first USA International Ballet Competition took place in 1979. This first competition was given sanction by the United Nation's International Dance Committee of UNESCOmarker’s International Theater Institute [213401].

In 1982, the United States Congress passed a Joint resolution designating Jackson, Mississippi, as the official home of the USA International Ballet Competition. Competitions occur every four years in Olympic style.


The International Ballet Competition (IBC) originated in Varnamarker, Bulgariamarker in 1964. The competition eventually expanded to rotating annual events in Varna [213402], Moscowmarker and Tokyomarker. In 1979 the event first came to the United States in Jackson, Mississippi, where it now returns every four years. The rotation is currently among Jackson, Varna, New York [213403],Helsinkimarker [213404] and Shanghai [213405]. A number of other international competitions are also sanctioned by UNESCO International Dance Council [213406].

After a distinguished career as a teacher in New York Citymarker, Thalia Mara moved to Jackson, Mississippimarker, to start a new professional company. In the late 70’s a group in New York City was looking for a site to hold an international competition in the United States. Thalia Mara successfully lobbied for Jackson as the site because it would give the competitors a taste of Middle America and it would help build interest in the ballet for her struggling new company. When asked why the competition was held in Mississippi, Bruce Marks said “New York is New York but Jackson is Americamarker.”

Ms. Mara put together an organization to raise funds and run the event. Hundreds of local volunteers supplemented the paid staff that first year. Capitalizing on the popularity of local sports the competition was marketed as the Olympics of Ballet. That first competition in 1979 faced an extra hurdle when the Jackson Municipal Auditorium was flooded just months before the competition. The last two weeks of June saw 70 dancers from 15 countries competing in front of several sold out performances.

After this first event the International Dance Committee of the *[International Theatre Institute][213407] of UNESCOmarker sanctioned the competition. Just before the Second USA IBC in 1982 the United States Congress passed a Joint Resolution designating Jackson as the official home of the IBC.

Thalia Mara Hall

This first USA IBC added several features that were not found in other competitions. Participants were invited to remain after elimination and encouraged to dance in a special performance at the awards gala. Every competitor and judge was paired with a local host family. A dance school was held concurrently with the competition so students could attend class with world class instructors during the day and attend the competition each night.

In 1994 the performance hall in Jackson, Mississippi where the USA IBC is held was renamed in honor of Thalia Mara. She died in Jackson on October 8, 2003.

Previous participants

The USA IBC has accelerated the careers of many dancers including Jose Manuel Carreño (1990), Nina Ananiashvili (1986), Vadim Pisarev (1986), Andris Liepa (1986), Daniel Meja (1986), Rasta Thomas (1998), Vladimir Malakhov (1990), Irina Dvorovenko (1990), Daniil Simkin (2006), Misa Kuranaga (2006), Sara Webb (2002), Katia Carranza (2002), Anna Antonicheva (1998), Yury & Zenaida Yanowsky (1994), Johan Kobborg (1994), April & Simon Ball (1994), Luis Serrano (1998), Dai Sasaki (1994), Edward Stierle (1986), Li Cunxin (1982) and Katherine Healy (1982).

Jury members have included Robert Joffrey, Yuri Grigorovich, Bruce Marks, Sophia Golovkina, Alexander Grant, Vera Kirova, Ivan Nagy, Laura Alonso, Vladimir Vasiliev, Yvette Chauvrire and Nina Novak.

Competitors are selected by a jury of dance professionals based on written applications and video auditions. There are two categories — seniors 19 to 26 and juniors 15 to 18. During the performances an international panel judges each dancer on the basis of artistry, technical skill and musicality. Highest and lowest scores are thrown out for each dancer’s performance to avoid any bias from any single judge.[1]

The competition consists of three rounds. In the first round each competitor must perform two solo variations or couples can perform a pas de deux selected from a repertoire set by the jury. Top scoring dancers advance to the second round where they must perform a modern work. These contemporary pieces may be eligible for a choreography award. Finalist must perform a classical piece from a pre-selected list and a contemporary piece in the third round. Points from all three rounds are totaled to determine mentalist in the junior and senior divisions. Note that these rules are typically adjusted each year at the discretion of the judges.[1]

Medalists receive cash awards of up to ten thousand dollars but the real reward is the exposure before officials from ballet companies across the world.[1]

Li Cunxin (senior men's silver medal in 1982) wrote a memoir Mao's Last Dancer that was a best seller in Australia and the United Kingdom. It includes his account of the competition in Jackson where he was not allowed to compete as a Chinese citizen because of his recent defection to the US. He also discusses the intrigue around the defection of Chinese dancer Lin Jianwei during the competition that year. Today Li lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia.

The first gold medalist at a USA IBC was Lubomir Kafka from Czechoslovakia in 1979. The first US representative to win a gold medal was Janie Parker with the Houston Ballet in 1982. The only medalist from the IBC's home town of Jackson was Kathy Thibodeaux in 1982.

Numerous dancers have participated in multiple USA IBCs but only Pierre Quinn from Canada has won medals in different IBCs — junior silver in 1982 and senior silver in 1990. Simon Ball came close when he won a Jury award as a junior in 1990 and won the gold medal as a junior in 1994.

A number of brother-sister pairs have been in the competition. The most successful was Yury and Zenaida Yanowsky (Spain, 1994, silver and gold respectively). April and Simon Ball (USA) also won awards as a brother-sister pair that same year.

Notable sisters have also passed through the IBC including Jennifer and Lauren Gelfand (USA, 1986 and 1990 respectively) and Adrienne and Ashley Canterna (USA, 1998 and 2002). Brothers Zoltan and Tamas Solymosi (Hungary, 1986 and 1990) went on to dance at the Royal Ballet in London and the American Ballet Theater, respectively.

See also


External links

  • USA International Ballet Competition Homepage —
  • Thalia Mara web site —
  • Dance photographs by Richard Finkelstein —
  • List of competitors with current position —

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