Born and raised in Brooklyn, Ilona Copen studied dance and performed with several small modern-dance companies until her ambition to be a dancer gave way to a desire to promote dance as an international art form. In 1983 she co-founded the New York International Ballet Competition, which held its first event the next year and has since become a biennial event for dancers ages 17-24.
Co-founder and director of the New York International Ballet Competition, Ilona Copen died in February. Through her passion for educating young dancers and the advancement of the arts, she left an indelible imprint on the dance world.
Copen studied dance at Juilliard and the Martha Graham School and performed with Jeff Duncan, among other modern choreographers. In 1983 she founded NYIBC with ballet star Igor Youskevitch. The biannual competition provides a three-week, tuition-free intensive training program to promising dancers from all over the world. They receive coaching from such ballet luminaries as Martine van Hamel and Cynthia Gregory, and modern dancers like Rachel Berman and Roxane D'Orléans Juste.
The list of past NYIBC winners includes Gillian Murphy (American Ballet Theatre), Sarah Lamb (Royal Ballet), Carlos Molina (Boston Ballet), and Victoria Jaiani (Joffrey Ballet). Before her death, Copen was working to reunite these alumni through an active Alumni Association.
"She was passionate and indefatigable—a magnificent lady," says NYICB associate director Marcia De La Garza. "Her capacity to empower people while leading with a firm hand and a kind heart was so inspiring. Many of us have been moved to action, to effect change, because of her example."
Reprinted with permission from the May 2010 issue of Dance Magazine.