A total of 32 finalists — many favorites who raised the roof on Thalia Mara Hall over the weekend — will advance to what’s expected to be a thrilling Round III of classical and contemporary dance in the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson.

“This competition, we all agreed, is a very high level,” International Jury chairman John Meehan said. “Of course, that means that when it’s concentrated into the final round, it can be very, very exciting.”

The 32 competitors from 10 countries will compete with classical and contemporary ballet selections in the coming days. Soloists will dance two classical variations and one contemporary piece; pas de deux (couple) competitors will dance one classical and one contemporary piece.

Competition performances are at 7:30 p.m Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The awards will be announced Friday morning, but who-won-what details will be reserved for an onstage announcement at the Friday night Awards Gala.

“We’re actually letting the prize winners know that they need to be warmed up and in a certain costume,” Meehan said. “We build to a climax and I think this really makes a dramatic climax.”

Tickets are still available, but picking up quickly, for the Round III sessions, the Awards Gala and Saturday night’s Encore Gala, at usaibc.tix.com and the IBC box office at Thalia Mara Hall.

“Last night, we deliberated and actually have our first winners of this competition,” Meehan said Monday morning, noting that each finalist receives a $1,500 travel stipend, awarded though the Peggy Mize Fund of the Community Foundation of Mississippi.

Juniors advancing to Round III include: Nicole Barroso, 16, of the Philippines, whose bold, hypnotic pas de deux with noncompeting partner Joshua Rey Enciso brought down the house Saturday night; Hyuma Kirosawa, 17, of Japan, who delivered an emotional turn Saturday night; USA competitor Alexandra Manuel, 14, whose powerful “Sinner Man” solo to Nina Simone’s music was among Sunday night highlights.

The competitive field for seniors for Round III includes: National Ballet of China duo Sicong Wu and Yunting Qiu, with a mesmerizing pas de deux that the crowd went wild over; American Katherine Barkman, with a power-packed pas de deux with noncompeting partner Joseph Phillips; Great Britain’s Albjon Gjorllaku, with a solo, “Accent” that was both witty and intense.

In the nations/numbers count, the tally is now: USA with 13 dancers; Japan, 5; Republic of Korea, 4; Cuba, 2; China, 2; Philippines, 2; Great Britain, 1; Armenia, 1; Canada, 1; Brazil, 1. In the category countdown, it’s: nine senior males; eight senior females; five junior males; 10 junior females. Download a complete list of winners here.

In judging contemporary ballet, Meehan looks for dancers to show a new dimension to their artistry.

Juror Trinidad Vives said, “Their artistry is subjective to each juror. A piece is going to appeal more to them than other pieces. But … I think we all also look for diversity of the dancer, that they can perform classical as well as other movement.” In contemporary selections, jurors also see what dancers want to express with their movement.

Republic of Korea competitor Park Yujin
Republic of Korea competitor Park Yujin performs “Mystery of Love” in Round II of the USA International Ballet Competition. Credit: Photo by Richard Finkelstein

“We also look to see how well-rehearsed they are,” Meehan said. “Some people bring an exciting piece of choreography, but you can see they haven’t rehearsed it to the last eyelash, while others have. That really makes a difference for us.

“Of course, because we all love dancers, we wanted to move as many people forward as we could. It’s a short career and people need to seize every opportunity they can, and we need to help as much as we can.”

Eliminated competitors stay on as guests of the competition. They also have additional performance opportunities. Those who didn’t advance the Round II semifinals can perform their contemporary selections in the Edward Stierle Contemporary Showcase Monday night at Belhaven University Center for the Arts. Eliminated competitors can also participate in a workshop with acclaimed American choreographer Matthew Neenan in a piece performed onstage during the Awards and Encore galas Friday and Saturday nights.

Jurors will select medalists and other award winners based solely on dancers’ Round III scores. Potential awards include gold, silver and bronze medals in each category, several special awards for choreography, merit and encouragement, and a Grand Prix (awarded only four times in IBC history, for dancers above and beyond the gold medal level). If the scores indicate, jurors may award more than one medal in a particular category, or withhold one if competitors do not measure up to the expectation.

Meehan said, “It’s going to be a great third round.”

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Sherry Lucas is a veteran feature writer in Jackson whose stories spread the word on Mississippi's food, arts, culture and communities. A lifelong Mississippian and University of Mississippi graduate, Lucas has decades of daily newspaper experience. She is now a freelance writer and contributes regularly to Mississippi Today.