Madeleine Onne with Abigail Sheppard. Photo: Stefan Bremer
What is the international significance of the Helsinki International Ballet Competition?
The competition has a very good reputation: both the young competitors and their parents feel safe here. This is not just because Finland and Helsinki are very safe places in the global context. The competition is well organised, and the competitors are well looked after. There are sufficient rehearsal spaces at the Opera House, accommodation is carefully considered, and the jury is of a high calibre. The entire competition takes place at the Opera House, which is unusual even by international standards!
What is the significance of HIBC for the competitors?
It has become considerable. It is important for dancers to be seen, and not just by the jury. In most cases, those who do well in the competition will soon find an engagement with a ballet company. When I was on the jury in 2012, representing the Hong Kong Ballet, I offered an agreement to the winner of the senior category, Candice Adea.
The most important thing, however, is the preparation. The work done there by the young competitors is never wasted. It is much more inspiring to work with a coach towards a specific goal than just to practice to get better in general.
Also, young people today are smart enough to engage in networking throughout the course of the competition. Some of the relationships established may last a lifetime.
And what is the significance of HIBC for the City of Helsinki?
I have worked on several continents and in several cities, and I have noted that Finland has an exceptionally high level of interest in the arts. A good example is this string of fine cultural institutions lining Töölönlahti bay.
In these inclusive times, as we seek to dissolve boundaries between cultures and languages, a competition such as this is a wonderful opportunity. The focus is on how we are all similar, regardless of our language, culture, religion or skin colour. This is a valuable thing for Finland in general and Helsinki in particular.
Can you compete in art?
No, it’s actually not possible. (smiling) But you can measure some things. You can observe whether a dancer has a command of technique; that aspect of the judging is fair and can be compared to, say, figure skating or the high jump.
But then there is the artistic element, which is a very subjective thing indeed to evaluate.
The jury members come from different countries, and they all have a great deal of experience and professional expertise. They are not always looking for a finished product but for the potential that can be found in young dancers. So yes, it is possible to compete in art, because competitions can bring up talents that might not have a chance to be seen otherwise. And these young people may then get a chance to prove themselves in a new ballet company or at a new school, which would not have happened without the Competition.
Do competitions like this have a future?
We human beings want to compete in absolutely everything. There are even TV shows where people compete in who falls in love with whom. We want to have winners and stars. But we need to remember that everyone participating here is working towards their personal goals. So no one is a loser, because winning is not the main thing.
Text: Heidi Almi
Madeleine Onne with 2016 winner Yimeng Sun and Lucas Jerkander. Photo: Stefan Bremer