Last January's first VIBE Missoula event was an experiment: What happens if you hold an international ballet competition in the Northern Rockies?
It brought the Vienna International Ballet Experience to the United States for the first time, courtesy of a local connection with the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre, a dance school based here.
It featured almost a week's worth of competitions from international and American dancers, plus an array of lectures, panels and movies that were all open to the Missoula public.
"Last year, we had zero idea what to expect. Who would know?" said Charlene Campbell Carey, the RMBT's director.
They estimate that 6,000 people attended the events in total, proving successful enough that the event has returned for 2017, with even more interest from international dancers of varied styles for 2017 and years beyond.
"We're at 250 and I think it will swell to 300 even though we're past registration," Carey said.
They're set to descend on Missoula Jan. 10-14, with a similarly diverse slate of events and some familiar faces.
Dandara Amorim Veiga, a Brazilian teenager who won the grand prize last year, is returning. Veiga traveled two days to Sao Paulo last year to make the event, where she was offered a scholarship to study in Portugal and then the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater program.
"People will remember her and be excited to see her," Carey said.
The event is new enough that it draws dancers like Veiga who are looking for the next step in their career at a competition with less of the stressful atmosphere of established events.
"'Maybe if I'm in the right place at the right time somebody will see me and I'll be discovered,'" Carey said, depicting the mindset. "It has that feeling because it's new."
Missoula audiences were attracted to the first-year novelty as well. Carey founded the RMBT in 1998 and is quite familiar with the crowds at ballet performances here.
"I didn't recognize 80 percent of the people there," she said. "It's usually the opposite."
The dancers are coming from Portugal, Spain, Africa, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Colombia and more. Carey said the small-town atmosphere, complete with snow for some competitors who may never have seen it in person, is an attraction for many.
Here's a guide to some of the VIBE Missoula events. For a complete schedule, go to rmbt.org/vibe-schedule.
The heart of the event is the dance challenges, in which competitors from around the world compete in multiple categories.
The competitions are scheduled Jan. 10-13 in the Dennison Theatre on campus. Warm-ups run from 8-9 a.m., and the challenges take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or later if need be.
The international jury of professionals will be seated in a center row, and each dancer or team's score will be read after their performance. (The event doesn't have an emcee.)
Each individual or team has only two to three minutes. "They're moving along very quickly," Carey said.
Tuesday features the open category, which includes hip-hop, flamenco, Native American, tap, and other dances, followed by contemporary dance.
Wednesday and Thursday are dedicated to a "ballet gauntlet," Carey said, with groups or individuals specializing in classical and neoclassical ballet.
Friday promises the most excitement, when the finalists in all categories compete for the titles.
The festival culminates with a gala scheduled Jan. 14 at the Wilma Theatre that features performances by the winners and works you won't see elsewhere during the week. It's the only ticketed event, and anyone who wants to go should note that it sold out last year. Tickets are $25-$50, available at thewilma.com.
'Art of Diplomacy'
Last year, the organizers partnered with the Mansfield Center at UM to present a lecture series on the overlapping worlds of dance and diplomacy.
Carey said many of the visiting professionals have life experiences with the Chinese cultural revolution and the Cold War in Soviet Russia that the panels can help relate, courtesy of programming by Abraham Kim, executive director at the Mansfield Center, and the Montana World Affairs Council.
This year "The Art of Diplomacy" is set for Jan. 12-13 in the UC Ballroom.
The first night, which promises dance, music and storytelling, is billed as an "International Tasting Reception and Gala" and requires tickets.
Friday is a public symposium with panels and performances. On the docket are discussions about the role of dance in Chinese culture; and the effect of art on suicide, racism, sexism and more.
For more information, go to rmbt.org/vibe-usa/#/art-of-diplomacy.
The Montana Museum of Art and Culture has scheduled a panel on Malvina Hoffman, who sculpted a series of bronzes of dancer Ana Pavolva, and the role of Radio City Music Hall in American culture. The panel includes Carey, plus Didi Hoffman, Malvina Hoffman's biographer, and Barbara Koostra, director of the MMAC.
The talk is slated at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at UM's Masquer Theatre.
Jan. 10 opens with a block party planned for 5-8 p.m. in downtown Missoula. At Montgomery Distillery, dancers from Africa will share stories and art; at the Florence Hotel's Governor's Room at 6 p.m., the Missoula Youth Symphony and Missoula Writing Collaborative students will perform, followed by a hip-hop dance class for the community. At the Top Hat, there's a square dance with VIBE guests from 5-8 p.m.
Returning Montana dancer
Maria Sascha Khan grew up in Pray, not far southwest of Livingston, and pursued her career to the top levels in Russia, where she was a principal dancer with the Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. She's returning to her home state and VIBE to serve as a juror this year. She'll give a lecture, "If These Tutus Could Talk," that will cover her time working in Russia and around the world.
The talk is scheduled 11 a.m.-noon Jan. 10 at the Masquer Theater.
Later in the day, Khan will sign copies of a new dance photography book, "The Art of Movement," by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory of the NYC Dance Project.
The signing is scheduled at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 in the Florence lobby.
For her 1990 "Blond Ambition" tour, Madonna recruited young, gay and out dancers and hit the road for a record-setting tour documented in the film, "Truth or Dare." One of those dancers, Carlton Wilburn, is scheduled to be on hand for a screening of Ester Gould's "Strike a Pose," a new documentary about their lives after the tour. He'll also scheduled to take part in a discussion about HIV afterward at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Roxy Theater.
At 7 p.m. Jan. 13, director Raymond Wong of the Jumping Frames International Dance Festival in Asia is scheduled to curate a series of dance videos and films, with a panel of VIBE guests.