Sue Lobrano retiring after upcoming IBC

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Sue Lobrano stops for a second to admire the framed color photos of a pair of Russian dancers, frozen in the blue glow of a 1986 performance in Jackson that helped cinch them the Grand Prix.

“You know what I love about this?” the long-time executive director of the USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) said. “Nina Ananiashvili, part of the first Russian group that ever came she’s going to be on our jury.” So is Gigi Hyatt, who represented West Germany and won gold here in 1982.

“Now medal winners are coming and serving on the jury. … ‘The Circle of Life.’ Isn’t that what ‘The Lion King’ says?”

It’s the sort of generational full-circle that echoes her own coming retirement, after 34 years of service and this summer’s 10th USA IBC. She’ll stay to help wrap up the 2014 event, and with the transition. Mona Nicholas of Jackson has joined the IBC staff as deputy director.

The IBC is held every four years in Jackson. The 2014 IBC is June 14-29, when 97 competitors will vie for medals, scholarships, cash awards and company contracts in the “Olympic-style” competition.

Lobrano, 71, is originally from Batesville where she had her own dance school for 13 years. She joined the IBC staff right after the first competition in 1979 to manage the office, later moved to general manager, and in October 1990 was named the director. With the 2014 edition, she’ll have been executive director for seven of Jackson’s 10 IBCs.

Memories that leap to the front provide a backstage glimpse: competitors who chipped in to help a dancer who arrived with only parts of her classical costume; the coach who, seeing the need, helped a struggling, young coach-less dancer who was competing against his own.

Among the big ballet moments: the first Russian competitors in Jackson Ananiashvili, her partner Andris Liepi and Vadim Pisarev, who danced with a broken arm (Jackson’s medical community recast him with a clear, lightweight cast) and won gold in 1986.

In 1998, there was the award-winning “Shogun” by Rasta Thomas, 17, and Adrienne Canterna, 15, who both won gold (his, a senior). The Jackson favorites, who’ve returned several times to perform since, are now married with “a precious daughter, who’s dancing,” Lobrano said. “Her elevation is here,” she lifted her arm by her ear. There was also the 1982 defection of a Chinese dancer; his partner, headed for gold, was awarded a special jury prize.

Canterna said Lobrano’s “hard work, strength, grace and support is the reason the USA IBC is the most enjoyable, inspirational and exciting competition in the world.”

Sue is the epitome of Southern grace and charm,” said USA IBC board member Kathryn Stewart, who also worked with Lobrano as marketing director in 2002. “She has made it her life’s work to pass on Thalia Mara’s vision to the next generation of dance enthusiasts.”

IBC board chairman Haley Fisackerly lauded her as the guiding force behind the IBC’s continuous advancement and “the USA IBC experience that is synonymous for attracting the world’s most talented dancers.”

“It’s going to be so bittersweet,” Lobrano said. Daily involvement in her lifelong passion, dance, has been a joy. “But it’s time for me to move into the next season of my life.”

It’ll still include dance.

She’s proudest of establishing CityDance in 2003, a program of dance classes for Jackson Public Schools students, ages 7-12, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. The program has grown visibly, she said, noting dancers’ progress and their opening show for the 2012 Reunion Gala. “I’ve never been so proud of them as I was that night. I just get chill bumps, because it’s so important.

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