USA IBC: Jackson arts corridor transforms to international village

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A global welcome means a local bonus with the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, and not just in the thrill of world-class dance.

There’s a concrete reward, too. It just got pressure-washed.

The IBC continues through June 23 at Thalia Mara Hall with three rounds of competition in classical and contemporary ballet. Tickets are on sale, with availability at all competitive rounds, at usaibc.tix.com, IBC box office at Thalia Mara Hall or 601-973-9249.

Event activity, previously spread to venues around the city, concentrated in downtown Jackson for the 2018 IBC. The new Westin Jackson (the IBC’s official hotel), Thalia Mara Hall, the Arts Center of Mississippi and Jackson Convention Complex form an arts hub IBC leaders sought to maximize.

“Boom, boom, boom, everything in a straight line,” says Mona Nicholas, IBC executive director. Competitors are housed at Millsaps College and only the International Dance School is on the Belhaven University campus. “It made sense to put the International Village here” in downtown.

preparation for IBC

Sereena Henderson / Mississippi Today

A worker hangs flags and lights in preparation for the 2018 USA International Ballet Competition, which began in downtown Jackson Sunday.

The festive atmosphere finds street lights festooned with international flags and banners and posters of past winners on building walls. Dancers are going for gold, silver, bronze and other awards on the Thalia Mara Hall stage and taking competitor classes at the Jackson Convention Complex. There’s even a tutu check (like a coat check, but with more tulle) in case female competitors need the costume on hand for a tech rehearsal. Films and lectures at the convention complex, too, bring that facility into fuller use for this IBC.

The sculpture “Dancer 10” by Jack Howard-Potter of New York, installed out front at Thalia Mara Hall, sets the stage for the heated competition inside. On temporary loan from the Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden at Delta State University for the IBC’s duration, the leaping dancer is destined to become a selfie co-star for dancers and attendees.

USA IBC Preparation

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Construction workers with Copeland and John, Inc., help revitalize the area in front of the Arts Center of Mississippi building Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in preparation for the upcoming USA IBC event.

The biggest change — and most lasting one for Jacksonians — came to the concrete courtyard between the Arts Center and Pascagoula Street. The long-neglected spot has been spiffed up for the IBC and beyond.

The IBC’s Party on the Plaza, 5 to 7 p.m. June 16, will christen the spot as a social center with music, food trucks, vendors and more. The party, free and open to the public, will usher in Round II contemporary competition as well as pull attention to the newly revamped space. It’s a chance for IBC attendees to come down early, hang out and enjoy the space before the show.

USA IBC Preparation

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Landscapers William Wilkerson, left, and Jojo Gray-Lewis till soil and plant flowers Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in preparation for the upcoming USA International Ballet Competition, which began Sunday.

Primary funding for improvements came from the Community Foundation for Mississippi with additional financial and in-kind support from Brunini Law Firm, Entergy Mississippi, Trustmark National Bank, Green Oak Nursery, Davaine Lighting and the city of Jackson. Dead or dying trees were removed, stumps ground and new plants added. The concrete was pressure-washed, revealing a much lighter, softer shade. Jaunty red poles support bistro lights that zigzag across the plaza.

“All the glamour — it’s a tough process,” Davaine Lighting’s Austin Richardson said as he and Daniel Roach dug postholes in damp dirt for the poles in late May.

“All of the donors, individuals, the businesses, the volunteers — all the people that pitched in to do this — want to see things like this continue to happen,” says Green Oak’s Karen McKie. With the trees gone and the poles in “We thought it would be better to go with short and fluffy and pretty … just at eye level with the color,” she says. Knockout roses joined the surviving bushes, and permanent plants with burgundy and yellow, seasonal color, drift roses and more went in. “Florific everywhere.”

“Everything fell into place the last two months. … It’s been a really great community effort” to refresh and transform the space, says John Gomez, associate director at Downtown Jackson Partners and an IBC board member, who even brought a rake from home to help out.

USA IBC Preparation

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

David Lewis, project specialist for the Greater Jackson Arts Council, left, and John Gomez, associated director of Downtown Jackson Partners and co-chair of the beautification committee for the USA IBC, are photographed at the Arts Center of Mississippi building in Jackson Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

The IBC brought an opportunity for energy and momentum to focus on the space, connect the plaza with the convention center “and to really infuse color and energy and light,” says David Lewis, Greater Jackson Arts Council project specialist.

USA IBC Preparation

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Kinshasa Watson, volunteer coordinator for USA IBC parties and events, is photographed outside of the Arts Center of Mississippi Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

Kinshasa Watson, IBC volunteer coordinator for parties and events, is tickled to see the space turn from “a drab” into an event venue for hospitality and future use. “It’s such a beautiful space for the city in front of one of its major building, so it’s good to see that it’s been brought back to life.”

“What’s great about the Party on the Plaza event,” Lewis says, “is that it’ll set a precedent for that to happen more often.”

It’s key for Jackson to look its best for a big event and international spotlight, but it’s also important to look ahead, he says. “What does that look like after the fact? And, saying that, something like this leaves the place better than it found it, really.”