Ballet gets competitive

Nov 30, 2018, 09:40 IST | Snigdha Hasan

In a first for the city, a pan-India competition for all ages will see 75 ballerinas leave their ballet schools to go on stage and swirl before international judges

Ballet gets competitive
Ballerinas from the Indian Academy of Russian Ballet rehearse for the competition. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

For a city that gave India the legendary Tushna Dallas and Firoza Lali at a time when the total number of ballerinas in the country could be counted on one hand, it is odd that Mumbai offers little scope for its ballet dancers to go on pointe on a competitive platform. A competition held in the city about seven years ago came with a glimmer of hope, but proved to be a one-off event, open to senior ballerinas only.

Sufia Lambrau
Sufia Lambrou, who has been attending summer school at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, is being trained by Pia Sutaria to perform classical and contemporary ballet at the competition

It wouldn't be wrong then, to call The Great Indian Ballet Competition (GIBC) — with a category for dancers as young as four — the first such event in the city. Born out of the need to address this vacuum, it was meant to be an internal competition for the students of the city-based Indian Academy of Russian Ballet. "But word got around, and soon, we started getting participation queries from students of other ballet schools in Mumbai and other cities. How could we turn down a request that had the potential of bringing India's ballet community together?" says Apeksha Bhattacharyya, the academy's founder.

After months of fine-tuning, the competition will see 75 ballerinas from Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Mumbai showcase graceful swirls and soft hand movements at a Ghatkopar venue this Sunday. The rules for the debut edition, Bhattacharyya informs, are simple. Participants can perform solo and/or in groups, in classical and/or modern ballet styles, under one of the three categories: four- to six-year-olds, seven- to 10-year-olds, and those aged 11 and above. Two professional artistes from Japan and Serbia will judge the competition.

Pia SutariaPia Sutaria

Mumbai-based Sufia Lambrou got a taste of competitive ballet when she participated in an event in Delhi earlier this year. "One of my challenges has been to portray the emotions I feel when I perform, in my dance. When I was about to go on stage, I was torn between wanting to do well in studies and ballet," recalls the 14-year-old. She brought out the emotional tug of war in her performance, and won. "I have never felt more confident than this. Each opportunity to go on stage helps you improve," she adds.

Apeksha Bhattacharyya
Apeksha Bhattacharyya

Lambrou's mother, Zia Nath, a specialist in the sacred dances of India and Central Asia, stresses on the importance of taking what one learns at ballet school to the next level. "There has to be a goal to look forward to. Besides, a competition helps you come in touch with the larger community of dancers," she says. Bhattacharyya agrees. "Our students have been participating in international competitions, and they come back as different ballerinas. But not everyone can travel abroad. This is our way of raising the standards," she says, pointing to the masterclass that judge Anisja Gavrilovic will conduct for the participants. Fellow judge, Chiiho Saho, will give a presentation on the health benefits of ballet for Indians.

Divya Ramani
Ahmedabad- based Divya Ramani's initiation into ballet happened through online videos,  She hopes to carve a career in the dance form as a teacher

It is for this exposure that Divya Ramani — who began learning the dance form from online videos before a ballet school opened in Ahmedabad — has signed up. "The ballet scene here isn't very developed. I am looking forward to learning more about styles, apart from the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet style I have been training in," she says.

With such enthusiasm, and a rich legacy of ballet in Mumbai, why are such initiatives rare to come by? Pia Sutaria, a professional ballerina who has been coaching Lambrou for the GIBC, explains that ballet still doesn't have a dedicated following among the city's audiences. "There is a paucity of qualified teachers in India, and we don't have an Indian ballet company yet. But with so many kids learning ballet, things are changing," she assures. "Mumbai's ballet schools function in isolation," Bhattacharyya affirms. "But teachers whose students are not participating will also be in the audience on Sunday. And this is what we want the competition to be — a converging point for the city's, and India's, ballet community."

On: December 2, 3 pm to 5 pm
At: Zaverben Popatlal Auditorium, Ghatkopar East.
Call: 9987653453
Entry: Rs 350

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