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Black Swan, Bronze Idol

Nicholle Moffitt, 16, a locally trained ballet dancer fresh off her triumph in the Malibu Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker, became the second American ever to win a medal at the prestigious Adeline Gene International Ballet Awards in London Jan. 3.

Overcoming jet lag, a “dreadful” preliminary judged class and a sloping theatrical stage floor mined with trap doors for “The Phantom of the Opera,” Moffitt dazzled the Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) judges with her interpretation of Odile in the Black Swan variation from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet.

“Her Black Swan was riveting,” said JoAnna Jarvis, Moffitt’s teacher and director of the Ballet Studio by the Sea in Malibu. “So in focus.”

Samantha Anfanger of Malibu, 18, another Jarvis student who is now an apprentice at the Milwaukee Ballet, also participated in the competition, performing a variation from “Giselle” for the semi-finals. Anfanger’s performance was superb, Jarvis said — “Brilliant, so perfect for the English style” — but illness stole the edge that might have won a medal.

Informed that a long skirt was required for the Giselle variation, Anfanger borrowed a costume that had belonged to the great Russian dancer Natalia Makarova of the Kirov, Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Moffitt, Jarvis and Moffitt’s other teacher Jean-Marie Martz of the Idyllwild Academy for the Arts in Idyllwild, Calif. — all of whom collaborated on the choreography — decided that Moffitt’s Odile would be more elegant than evil, as the role often is interpreted.

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“When I was first learning the Black Swan, I thought she should be flirtatious and evil,” Moffitt said. “Then when I saw the other Black Swans [at training sessions in London] they seemed too dramatic for the Gene awards. They seemed overdone.

“With JoAnna and Jean-Marie we decided she should be elegant, like a queen and composed. You don’t want to give everything away. You don’t want to be as aggressive. You can’t be as dramatic. Draw it back.”

As the only one of the 13 finalist to dance the Black Swan, Moffitt said, “I felt special. I was different than the others.”

Moffitt’s idol, the legendary English ballerina Dame Antoinette Sibley, announced the 1999 awards from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket as the finalists stood nearby. According to Moffitt, the 60-year-old Sibley had been moved to tears backstage by the high quality of the dancing at the competition.

“I was surprised when they called my name,” Moffitt said. “I thought I was going to pass out.”

She described the event as “the most stressful thing I have had to go through in my entire life. I usually don’t get nervous.”

The first Adeline Gene award was presented in 1931. Stella Abrera of the Pasadena Dance Theater, who had trained for a year in Australia, won the first medal awarded to an American three years ago. Moffitt is strictly an American product.

“They couldn’t believe I was from California,” said Moffitt, whose competitors included three Canadians, two South Africans, two Scots, two male dancers from Brazil, two New Zealanders, one Spaniard, two English dancers and 27 Australians, all of whom had earned top honors in the rigorous RAD exams to qualify for the event.

“It’s so hard for Americans to compete,” Jarvis said. “Australia has professional schools from the age of 15. They learn academics on a correspondence basis.”

One gold, two silver and two bronze medals were awarded this year. The number varies annually; sometimes only one or two medals are given out.

Moffitt, Anfanger and Jarvis left for London Christmas day, along with Moffitt’s mother, Cheri, of Ojai. They spent the next week in training sessions at the RAD studio in Battersea.

With the medal, the judges handed Moffitt an envelope.

“I thought it was a thank-you note,” she said.

She stuck it in her pocket and went out to celebrate with Anfanger and Jarvis. As they walked to a restaurant, she opened the envelope to discover a check for 1,500 pounds ($2,645.00) — her prize money.

“As she was waving this envelope on the crowded street in central London,” Jarvis said, “spinning around and announcing, ‘It’s 1,500 pounds!’ I was getting a little worried.”

Moffitt, who lived in Malibu until her home burned in the 1993 fire, has returned to her studies at the Idyllwild Academy. She will launch her professional career when she graduates this spring.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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