Choreographer and host Margo Sappington set the tone for the gala performance of the second Boston International Ballet Competition Sunday evening when she stated, at the outset, that “all the participants have been so giving to each other, so nice to each other.” That fit with founder Valentina Kozlova’s vision for the competition, which is that it should be as much a celebration as a contest. The 2012 edition took place at the Cutler Majestic Theatre; the judging panel was again headed by Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, and there were some 90 contestants from 16 countries.
The gala showcased winners from each of the three-day competition’s age divisions — student (13-14 years old), junior (15-18), and senior (19-25) — alongside some special guests and 2011 alumni. The highlight of the first half was “Beginning of a Long Journey,” which junior women’s gold medalist Min Jung Kim danced with fellow South Korean Tae Seok Kim; it described a troubled relationship, and the maturity of the choreography was matched by that of the dancers. The first-prize winner in the student division, Ji Min Ahn, is also from South Korea; she contributed a poised, radiant “Giselle” variation.
The junior men’s gold medalist, American Albert Gordon, executed some nice 45-degree revoltades in his variation from the pantomime ballet “Satanella”; local audiences will have more chances to see him, since he’s been given a contract for the 2012-13 season at Boston Ballet II. Two other Americans, Sarah Steele and current Boston Ballet II member Lauren Herfindahl, shared the silver medal in the junior women’s division; Steele showed amplitude and extension in Gamzatti’s variation from “La Bayadère”; Herfindahl pranced through her “Swan Lake” variation with grace and elegance.
At last year’s gala, New York City Ballet principals Jennie Somogyi and Charles Askegard made a guest appearance in Sappington’s “Entwined.” Askegard returned to perform the same piece with American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, but this generic duet didn’t improve on further acquaintance. The other pair of special guests, Boston Ballet soloists Whitney Jensen and Paulo Arrais, were more engrossing in a piece by Arrais called “Work in Progress.” The 2011 silver medalist in the senior men’s division, Andile Ndlovu, was also back to perform his own riveting “The Art of War.”
American Brooklyn Mack took the bronze medal in the senior men’s division last year; this time out, he won gold. He has astonishing power, pace, and pyrotechnics, as he showed in his “Actaeon” variation, but to that he’s added poetry. The senior women’s gold medalist, South Korean Seo Hye Han, was as sultry and seductive in her “Black Swan” pas de deux as she had been in the “Don Quixote” pas de deux that she performed in the final round of competition. She, too, will be around next year; she’s been awarded a Boston Ballet company contract for 2012-13.