With just a couple of days until a competition for 11 local choreographers aged 18 to 35, most of them are bustling on finishing their pieces — not thinking about winning.

But that definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing: The first-place winner in Sunday’s competition, the Young Choreographers Showcase, receives a $3,000 prize and two runners up each receive $1,000.

The three choreographers we’ve been following — Trystan Loucado, Melissa Adao and Zaquia Salinas — all said their pieces are meant to mean different things to each audience member. They’ve each got surface images such as bathroom etiquette, tribal movements and rigor mortis, but they’re not eager to say too much about the real messages behind their dances.

So how can something intangible be judged with $5,000 on the line?

Jean Isaacs, the woman behind the showcase, created a judging system that includes three talented and expertly trained judges. But those judges don’t even get 50 percent of the final vote. Most of the impact is left up to the audience.

Pat Launer | Courtesy photo

“I think it’s great that the audience gets to weigh in,” said Pat Launer, one of the judges. “I don’t think the judges are always the end-all be-all. Everybody comes to something with their different perspective.”

She wants to be moved, engaged and excited while judging. “I’m looking at how the choreographers utilize body to either present an idea or tell a story or make beautiful pictures with the human body,” she said.

The voting works like this: Each judge is given 200 votes, which he or she can divide between any amount of choreographers — maybe 35 votes for one, 27 for another and so on. And each of the 350 audience members gets two votes. Isaacs joked that’s so they can give one to their friend or loved one and one to the person whom they really liked the best.

The audience, therefore, has the power to trump the judges’ decision.

Shoba Sharma | Courtesy photo

Still, Isaacs wanted to include a variety of viewpoints and so asked three judges with diverse backgrounds to join the judges’ panel. Adjudicating this year are Shoba Sharma, John Malashock and Launer — a dancer, a choreographer and a critic.

“I think it’s interesting that Jean chose for this to have three very different perspectives,” Launer said. “As an arts and culture writer I’ve written quite a bit about dance, so I think she thought I would be able to judge from the dramatic and theatricality perspective.”

Sharma has been studying the Indian dance form Bharata Natyam, which balances technique and mime, since the age of 7.

“I bring a unique set of eyes which are different from the western form,” she said. “You’re used to seeing things such as ballet, modern, post-modern, the different forms — but I’m coming in and bringing a balance of both technique and theater.”

Malashock, the artistic director of Malashock Dance School, is a prolific choreographer who’s worked with theater, opera and film companies to make dance.

John Malashock | Courtesy photo

Sharma will be critiquing not only the visual aspects of the dances, but also the internal effects on the audience.

“I think when I’m judging I’m looking for primarily a certain element of artistry that goes beyond technique,” Sharma said. “It’s one of those things that you can’t quite describe easily in words. It’s something that reaches out and touches you, something that reaches out and moves you. And it goes beyond just technique … it’s that sheer artistry that is a gift.”

But while she’s eager to be involved, she’s even happier the audience would show up to something like this. “I think it’s wonderful that Jean has put something like this together, bringing people together and creating that excitement. When you have enough other things to do in San Diego, it’s wonderful that people are taking the time to do this. It brings a great sense of importance to dance.”

“I think it’s wonderful exposure,” Launer added. “I just hope a lot of people come and it gets a lot of press so people know what a burgeoning, vibrant dance community this is.”

The competition will happen at 6:30 p.m. this Sunday, March 25 at The Neurosciences Institute located at 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive in La Jolla.

We’ll be there and bring you an update; stay tuned to learn who wins.

Catch up on our previous embedded posts about the showcase. Peek inside rehearsals, happening on the weekends and late at night, and see the pressure mounting. Discover how choreographers are using surprising and odd inspirations — the bathroom and rigor mortis among them — to create works for the competition. And learn about the showcase itself, started by Jean Isaacs as a way to foster new dance-making.

Update: In an earlier interview, Isaacs told us the judges would have half as many votes than the 200 they were given at the competition, and underestimated the number of audience members. The post has been updated to reflect the correct information.

Allie Daugherty reports on arts for voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact her directly at allie.daugherty@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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