Arts » Theater + Dance

Ballet competition brings international talent to Indianapolis

High caliber dancers share thoughts about what makes the week tick


Edward Ellison teaching a master class.

Indianapolis City Ballet will be playing host for its first ever international ballet competition. Even though this is ICB's first run at an event like this, it's also one of the few in the world that judges dancers not only on their performance when the music is cued and spotlight is on, but how well they do in several master class sessions as well. World-renowned dancers, teachers, choreographers and artistic directors will all meet at Butler University's Schrott Center June 11-14 to take classes and attempt three performance variations to try and land scholarships and cash prizes. The 180 competitors were selected after submitting videos of themselves dancing, in the hopes of being considered for the competition. NUVO touched base with a judge and two performers to see how some of the people backstage were feeling about the week.

Edward Ellison: Judge. Founder and Artistic Director of Ellison Ballet in New York

Ellison, a world-renowned teacher, didn't set foot into a ballet class until he was eighteen; something that is nearly unheard of among professional dancers. Though he was athletic his teachers told him that there was just no way that he would be able to catch up, much less make it into a company. He was accepted to the San Francisco Ballet (read: the holy grail of ballet companies) within a few years. He was quickly told by other dancers that he looked like he had been dancing since he was eight years old. "So many of the limits that we have in our lives are what we decide are limits," says Ellison. "As human beings we are capable of achieving truly amazing things, but we have to be free to believe it with all of our heart, and our work must reflect that belief."

NUVO: How does this competition stand out to you?

Ellison: "This is the fist year of the competition. I am particularly excited about it because of the directors. I hold them in high regard. It appears they are really trying to do this first class, to provide not only an opportunity for these talented kids to compete but to provide an educational experience for them. Bringing in world class coaches and teachers. I think it is going to be quite a special event."

Q&A with Edward Ellison from Indianapolis City Ballet on Vimeo.

NUVO: As a judge what are you looking for?

Ellison: "I personally am looking for young dancers who have something special; not only are we talking about their stage performance ... even though they're just doing a very small exerpt from this ballet they need to show one's understanding of the character, of the style of the piece and the understanding of the musicality, the physicality of it. And understanding of who that character is — their profile. Then, of course, we're going to be looking for technique ... Then there is that something special. It is difficult to find words for what that is, but it's a quality that you sometimes will find in a young dancer. ... If it is only a display of technique I find it rather boring. I certainly want to see that there is much more than just clean technique and that they can do the steps. I want to see that the young dancer has something to say, that there is a light that shines within. I would rather see the artistic quality over a perfectly clean variation."

Natasha Sheehan, who will be competing in the ICB international competition.

Natasha Sheehan: 16 years old, San Francisco

Sheehan performed in the ICB's Evening With the Stars last year. She currently dances with the San Francisco Ballet Trainee Program, whose studio is in the lower level of the renowned company's building.

NUVO: How do you get ready backstage before a big competition?

Sheehan: "Before a performance I usually like to be by myself and just tune out with music. Just to be centered and focused. I try not to talk to people as much as possible because I feel like I get distracted."

NUVO: What's your next focus after this?

Sheehan: "I definitely see myself doing this as long as I possibly can. I love the dancing of course, but I love everything about it, the costumes, the scenery, the music, everything about it makes sense. That is my next goal, to get into a company."

Olivia Behrmann, an Indianapolis native, will be dancing over the week. She has not missed a single gala or master class that ICB has hosted. Photo by Eduardo Torres

Olivia Behrmann: 17 years old, Indianapolis

Olivia has been connected to ICB for the last 5 years, and has attended nearly every master class and gala since. Godspeed and make use of that home court advantage, Olivia.

NUVO: Is there anything about this week that feels different?

Behrmann: "For this competition not only do the teachers, competitors and judges get to see you on stage, they get to see you in class. which I find better in some ways because you can work on a variation in some ways, trying to perfect it for months but your real technique will show in a ballet class."

NUVO: What was your first competition like?

Behrmann: "I had the flu and had only been on pointe for six months ... I still ended up placing in the top 12. I've placed in every year since including first place in the senior classical division the past two years."


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