September 8, 2009 / 6:07 AM / 9 years ago

Dance contest gives young ballerinas shot at stardom

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The pirouettes have been perfected, the tutus tended to and the stage set: will the ballet discover its next big thing in Singapore?

Royal Academy of Dance artistic director Lynn Wallis (R) watches participants pirouette during a coaching session before the Genee International Ballet Competition in Singapore, September 6, 2009. REUTERS/Candida Ng

Teenagers aspiring to follow in the footsteps of illustrious dancers such as Margot Fonteyn and Mikhail Baryshnikov will get a shot at stardom at this weekend’s Genee International Ballet Competition, being held for the first time in Southeast Asia.

Regarded as one of the most prestigious contests for amateur dancers, the flagship event of Britain’s Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) also serves as a platform for emerging talents to be spotted by professional dance companies.

“It’s quite a unique experience because it’s not often that a dancer, especially at that age, has the chance of working on a solo variation and something that has been choreographed specifically for them,” said Lynn Wallis, RAD’s artistic director.

The 54 youths, aged between 15 and 19, were put through the paces in grueling eight-hour-long coaching sessions for the past five days, giving them a taste of what a professional career might entail.

Under the watchful eyes of Wallis and two other choreographers, the competitors had to master various dances, including one specially commissioned for them.

Judges will be watching for nifty footwork, the contestants’ ability to engage the audience and their choice of music at the upcoming finals of the 78-year-old competition on Saturday.

Since 2002, the competition has been regularly held outside Britain, each time to sell-out audiences, helping make ballet ever more accessible to people from all walks of life.

This year’s competitors hail from 14 countries including Australia, Japan and South Africa.

“Ballet is now seen not as an elitist art. Everyone can go and watch it,” said former Royal Ballet principal ballerina Darcey Bussell, who was in Singapore for the competition’s gala dinner.

While its audience might have grown and with performances becoming more experimental, ballet still remains an art form that requires iron-clad discipline, exquisite technique and brilliant showmanship, concerns never far from the minds of dancers.

Yet for 17-year-old Camila de Caso of Brazil, who has been training for 10 years, ballet is simply about self-expression.

“When I dance, it seems like the world is a better place and there are no problems,” she said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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