Dancers from China, Korea Medal at Ballet Competition

Dancers from China, Portugal and South Korea received top awards Friday at the two-week USA International Ballet Competition in Mississippi.

A Portuguese woman, Catarina Moreira, received a choreography award for a powerful contemporary piece performed Thursday night by one of her students, 16-year-old Marcelino Sambe of Portugal, the junior division men’s gold medalist.

Sambe received an extended standing ovation for his intense, percussive interpretation of the piece about how each person believes he suffers more than others.

“The dance is an art, it’s not a sport. I think we should preserve the heart of the dance, not who does more pirouettes and moves,” Sambe said after winning his gold medal Friday.

More than 100 dancers from 31 countries competed, with 15- to 18-year-olds in the junior division and 19- to 26-year-olds in the senior division. Finalists performed classical and contemporary pieces to demonstrate their range of technique and stage presence.

The senior women’s gold medal was awarded to Cao Shuci of China. The junior women’s gold medal was awarded to Ji Young Chae of South Korea.

The 13 jurors — each from a different country — did not award a gold medal in the senior men’s division.

“We didn’t feel there was anyone of high enough caliber, and the points indicated that as well,” said jury chairman Bruce Marks of the United States, a former American Ballet Theatre dancer.

Cao said through an interpreter Friday that technique alone is not enough to be a successful artist; she also wants touch people’s emotions.

“This is just a beginning,” she said. “I love to dance but I will be very careful to make every step in my career.”

The only medalist from the U.S. was 15-year-old Derek Dunn, who was awarded the junior men’s bronze. Dunn grew up in the Baltimore area dancing, playing soccer and swimming. In the past few months, he has narrowed his focus to dance and is a student at The Rock School in Philadelphia.

“This medal hopefully will be kind of the start to my career somehow,” said Dunn, who’s been dancing eight years. “I’m not sure what company, but I know I want to be in a major ballet company one day.”

The USA International Ballet Competition first took place in Jackson in 1979, and has been held in the city every four years since 1982. It has helped launch careers of dancers such as Jose Manuel Carreno, who won the grand prix in Jackson in 1990 and is now a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

Medalists received cash awards of up to $8,000, and three received contracts to dance with companies in the United States.