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Young Dancers Pursue a Medal in Moscow

At the famed Bolshoi Theater, 66 competitors from 22 countries vie for honors at the international ballet competition

THE young ballerina in the blue tutu kept her balance and finished with a flourish of pirouettes. Relief showed as she took her bows on the famed raked wooden stage of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow before one of the greatest names in the ballet world - Galina Ulanova.

While the audience applauded and Miss Ulanova and other members of the jury marked their ballots, No. 33 in the Moscow International Ballet Competition, Dalia Imanich, ran off to prepare for the other two variations she had to dance before the evening ended.

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Dalia was one of the 66 young candidates striving for stardom at the Olympic-style competition, held every four years in the halls of the Bolshoi Theater. This year, the seventh Moscow event, there were competitors from 22 countries, including for the first time Albania, Korea, and England.

Dalia is from Yugoslavia. She used to live in Sarajevo but had to flee to Belgrade with her mother in order to continue her ballet studies after the fighting began. Because of the political and economic situation there, it has been no easy task to get to Moscow.

Dalia's coach, Zoe Begoli, spoke with great feeling and gratitude that her country had been invited to compete. ``It's so good to know that people realize we don't just have war in our country, that there is another side to Yugoslavia. Thank you for including us,'' she said.

An Austrian trading company in Moscow was instrumental in funding the Yugoslavians' trip and providing Dalia with the numerous pairs of pink satin ballet shoes needed for the competition.

Of the four major international ballet competitions - Moscow; Helsinki; Varna, Bulgaria; and Jackson, Miss. - Moscow has always been the most prestigious. For many of its competitors, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dance on the Bolshoi stage in front of world-renowned judges is enough to kindle a desire to enter.

Focus on Marius Petipa

Since its first competition in 1969, Moscow has discovered many new talents - dancers who have gone on to stardom such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Nadezhda Pavlova, Nina Ananiashvili, Irek Mukhamedov, Amanda McKerrow, Andris Liepa, and Julio Bocca.

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The competition this year was dedicated to the choreographer Marius Petipa, born 175 years ago. Considered the father of classical Russian choreography, he created such masterpieces as ``The Sleeping Beauty,'' ``Swan Lake,'' and ``La Bayadere'' for the Imperial Russian Ballet. His works require a solid base in the academics of ballet while demanding purity, artistry, and fluidity in their interpretation.

While the first and second round allowed works from the extensive classical repertoire, the mandatory program of the third round was devoted to works that Petipa created in Russian. It proved a challenge that quickly separated those with only flair and flourish from those who offered true ballerina or danseur quality. The results were both surprising and disappointing. Russian-Japanese rivalry

For the first time this year, the Moscow competitions were sheltered under the umbrella of Russia instead of the USSR. The word ``international'' took on a different meaning. Everyone other than the Russians was classed as a ``foreigner'' though with seven contestants from former republics, the ``home'' team made up 22 of the total 62 contestants who entered. And in the final awards, 12 of the Russians won awards.

The biggest challenge to the Russians came not from Western dancers, as in the past, but from the Japanese who have made rapid progress and whose pyrotechnical skills proved outstanding.

The 23-year-old Morihiro Ivata won a gold medal after displaying great virtuosity, soaring flight, and quicksilver movement in all three rounds. He brings sparkle to the stage and presently works here in Moscow with the Gordeyev Company. But his lack of height and compact body proportions could limit his range as a dancer. He danced solo throughout, so we could not judge what he would be like as a partner.

His sister, Yukiko, took home the silver medal. She danced a delicate and sensitive Aurora from ``The Sleeping Beauty'' in the Petipa round in a costume reminiscent of Margot Fonteyn. Another Japanese girl, Megumi Asaeda, also took a silver, demonstrating throughout a firm and strong technical base with perfect and complicated fouettes (whip-turns on one leg made while turning the other leg).

The Russians answered this challenge with a pert and youthful ballerina from the recently founded new company at the Bolshoi, artistic director Yuri Grigorovich's ``Studio Ballet.'' On opening night the whole competition contingent was invited to the Bolshoi Theater to see the premiere of the group's ``La Fille Mal Gardee'' with dimple-cheeked Elena Kniazhkova in the leading role. The next day, (with the advantage of familiarity with both stage and setting), she became No. 4 in the competition and confidently went on to show her remarkable skill and firm grounding of classical ballet in all three rounds.

There were many changes this time to the competition - my fifth: a change of date, from the balmy white nights of June to crisp and snowy September and no contestants from Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, Cuba, or China - countries that have always won prizes in the past. Europe was poorly represented in numbers but not in quality.

French danseur Bernard Courtet de Bouteiller, now with the San Francisco Ballet, deservedly won a gold medal for his continuous demonstrations of refinement, purity of line, and quick tidy footwork. His true, natural French charm made him a favorite, and he won the public's vote along with a huge teapot and a painting.

Dalia, alas, did not make it into the final round, though her dramatic solo, ``Sunday,'' in the contemporary section showed real passion and depth. But she stayed to the end and returned home with those priceless tools of her trade, the pink satin slippers, to brighten the stage in a country where ballet - and its talented exponents - is fast disappearing. For her, the Moscow competition was a breath of fresh air and promise. The lone American

For most of the young dancers who came to the competition, the 10 days at the Bolshoi were the apex of years of dedicated full-time ballet training.

But for the lone American contestant who came under his own steam - no sponsorship nor organization - ballet has been a part of his life for only four years.

Seventeen-year-old Boris Estulin comes from Philadelphia and started ballet classes at the Dance Conservatory there when his twin sister decided to study.

``I went along with her as we had always done things together,'' he said in the vast wings of the Bolshoi stage after a rehearsal. ``I was surprised that I quite enjoyed it, so I decided to keep going.''

Boris takes nine classes a week with teacher Mikhail Korogodsky, in addition to rehearsals. He has made significant progress despite challenges from school. ``I never tell anyone that I do dancing,'' he says. ``The boys at school just don't understand.''

When Boris told school officials that he would be absent for the first two weeks of the term to dance in Moscow, they were not impressed. ``They told me that I would have to make up all the days lost when I returned,'' he says, shrugging his shoulders. ``Without me, there'd have been no American dancing here.''

While in Moscow, Boris had one big advantage over the other overseas competitors - he speaks fluent Russian. He was born in what was Byelorussia but moved to Lithuania where he lived until he was 12. Then the family emigrated to America and he had to learn English.

``I had no interest nor connection whatsoever with dance in the Soviet Union - nor did my family. My father is a computer engineer and my mother a hairdresser. It was only when I got to America four years ago that I suddenly discovered ballet,'' he says.

Boris is an open, friendly young man who is built like a football player. His dancing is strong, full of effort and potential but in need of taming and refinement. All four extracts that he danced showed his bravura style, throwing himself fearlessly into his dancing, but a competition such as this requires evidence of an understanding of the full spectrum of ballet and especially its exacting technique. And that doesn't come in just four years.

Boris should nevertheless feel proud at having reached the second round on such a historic and famous stage in front of the knowledgable Bolshoi audience. ``Hopefully my teachers back at school will [feel proud], too,'' he says.

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