The Youth America Grand Prix has a knack for finding ballet's big names of tomorrow, and the latest crop of potential stars has arrived. At the end of last week, the winners of YAGP's New York City finals were announced with many dancers taking home scholarships to schools worldwide.
If you follow the competition circuit, you may be familiar with several of these names, but Pointe readers will definitely recognize Lauren Hunter, who came in third place for females in the senior age division. That's an impressive feat for any young dancer, but it's not the first prize Hunter has taken home this year. In our current April/May issue, we followed her throughout her journey at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, where she advanced to the final round. (Spoiler alert: She won fifth place and a scholarship to The Royal Ballet School.)
Lauren Hunter stands with her feet tightly crossed in fifth position, the number 102 pinned to the front of her leotard. The 15-year-old California native, who trains at Peninsula School of Performing Arts, is a long way from home, but she's one step closer to achieving her dream of dancing professionally. Around her are dancers from Asia, Australia, South America and Europe, all candidates for the Prix de Lausanne, an international scholarship competition held each January in Switzerland. For the next week, a nine-member jury will carefully evaluate them during classes, coaching sessions and performances for a chance to win scholarships to major ballet schools. “I thought it would be a good time for me to open my horizons, to meet new people and see what the professional world is really like," she says.
Hunter is one of approximately 70 young dancers selected to participate. Each candidate must choose from a selection of classical variations and more-contemporary solos by John Neumeier. For the last two months, Hunter has been training to perfect the second Odalisque variation from Le Corsaire, and Neumeier's fleet-footed Bach Suite II. “I don't have a lot of experience dancing contemporary," she says. “It's a challenge for me."
Her dream is to dance with The Royal Ballet, and she hopes to make a good impression on director Kevin O'Hare, who is chairing the jury. “But I'm most excited about being around so many high-level dancers, especially coming from a small school," she says. “I just want to represent my studio and myself well." In January, Pointe followed Hunter to capture her week at the Prix.
12:30 pm: Registration
After having a day to adjust to the nine-hour time difference and do a little sightseeing, Hunter heads to Lausanne's Beaulieu Theatre for registration. There she receives her number and is placed in Girls Group A. “I got to meet all the people in my group," she says. “Afterwards we took our first class and got a chance to look around and see all the studios."
10:15 am: Classical variation run-through
After a warm-up class, Hunter has a chance to practice her Le Corsaire variation onstage. “I'm second in my group, and the girl before me is doing the same variation, so it's kind of nerve-racking." She also has to get used to the stage's raked, or sloped, floor. “You kind of fall forward, so it's a little scary, but once I'm dancing I don't think about it."
12 pm: Classical ballet class, with the jury observing
William Forsythe stager and master teacher Stefanie Arndt teaches Hunter's first class in front of the jury, who sit behind a long table at the front of the studio. Dancers rotate spots after every combination so that everyone can be seen. Judges grade dancers on their artistry, musicality, courage, versatility and overall potential. “I was super-
nervous," says Hunter. “I didn't know we would have to wear pointe shoes for all of center."
4 pm: Contemporary class
“I don't take contemporary very often, so it's very new for me," says Hunter, who nevertheless stands right in front in international choreographer Didy Veldman's class. “I like the teacher. She makes it fun."
11 am: Contemporary class
Today Hunter is starting to move more freely in her upper body. “She's building off the combinations we learned the first day," Hunter says. “Thursday we have our judging with the contemporary class, so that should be interesting."
2 pm: Classical ballet class, with jury marking
“Everyone's amazing here," says Hunter. She pays attention to which dancers the jury watches and tries to learn from them. “The ones who smiled or had a nice upper body seemed to catch their eye."
Towards the end, Arndt gives a lengthy enchaînement, and Hunter has to go in the first group. “I knew all the steps, but I was hesitant about them," she says. “If I had been in the second group, maybe it would've been better. But other than that, class felt good."
5:20 pm: Onstage contemporary coaching session
The dancers in Group A have group coaching sessions for their Neumeier variation with Laura Cazzaniga, a ballet mistress with Hamburg Ballet. As she rehearses the speedy Bach Suite II, Hunter feels the effects of the rake. “There are a lot of direction changes, and whenever you do turns upstage, it's like you're climbing a mountain," she says. “Ms. Cazzaniga worked with us on the style so that we interpret it the way Neumeier wanted."
12:15–4 pm: Classical coaching
After morning class, Hunter has a six-minute private coaching session for her classical variation with former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Monique Loudières. “Her demeanor was very kind, which helped me be more open to express myself and do well," says Hunter. “She gave me a few arm corrections, and there was also a jumping section where she wanted my footwork to be quicker."
9:15 am: Contemporary class, with jury marking
“I was super-worried about this," says Hunter. “I thought this would be the hardest part of the competition." However, she's no longer dancing tentatively and wears a confident smile. “Everything just worked!" One of the first things Veldman has the dancers do is run around the studio, freestyle. “I think that helped us loosen up and not get too worked up about the judges being there."
11:30 am: Classical coaching
Loudières gives Hunter some last-minute corrections about her développé (“don't throw your leg") and then speaks quietly with her. “She said I had the confidence to be able to perform strongly," says Hunter. “If she thinks I'm ready, I think everybody else will think so too."
2:15–3:40 pm: Contemporary coaching
After a group coaching session with Cazzaniga in front of the jury, Hunter has a one-on-one session with Yohan Stegli, deputy of the artistic director of the National Youth Ballet of Germany. Both work with her on her sissonne to arabesque. “I have a chronic problem with my ribs splaying out."
9:30 am: Selections, or semifinals
Hunter performs her classical variation first, and despite a minor bobble with her final piqué turn, everything goes well. “I felt on my legs—I was grounded and remembering corrections as I was going along."
During her contemporary solo, she catches her pointe shoe on the floor and slips. “That freaked me out a little, but I got back into focus." After she comes offstage, she feels grateful and relieved. “I've been preparing for this moment for how many months now, and I finally did it!"
6:45 pm: Finalists announced
The candidates gather to hear who will advance to the final round. “I thought, It's okay if I don't get in—there are so many good dancers here," says Hunter. To her surprise, her name is called. “It was the craziest feeling! I couldn't sleep that night because I was so excited."
2:30 pm: Final round
“I was so happy to be in the finals that I wasn't thinking about winning a prize," says Hunter. Technically assured and confident, she gives her best performances of the week. “I felt something click during the contemporary."
6 pm: Awards ceremony
Hunter wins fifth place, and a scholarship to a Prix de Lausanne partner school of her choice. “I didn't expect anything!" she says. Her next step is to visit The Royal Ballet School to make sure it's the right fit. “The fact that I now get to go to a big school just hit me—this is actually happening!"
All photos by Gregory Batardon, courtesy Prix de Lausanne
Hunter takes her first class in front of the jury. "Most of the time they have a poker face, so it's hard to know what they're thinking," she says.
What a week it’s been! Yesterday, the 20 Prix de Lausanne finalists took the stage for a final chance to win scholarships and apprentice contracts with some of the world’s major ballet institutions. Throughout the week, I’ve had the privilege of observing all 67 talented dancers in classes and onstage, and there’s no way I would have been able to make a decision. The talent and determination from these budding young artists is unprecedented. To quote Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neumeier, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at last night's awards ceremony, “There are no firsts or seconds in human beings.”
Nevertheless, eight dancers won a scholarship to enter one of the 68 Prix de Lausanne partner schools and companies of their choice.
They are, in order of ranking:
- Michele Esposito, 17, Italy
2. Marina Fernandes de Costa Duarte, 17, Brazil
3. Taisuke Nakao, 17, Japan
4. Koyo Yamamoto, 15, Japan
5. Lauren Hunter, 15, USA
6. Stanislaw Wegrzyn, 18, Poland
7. Diana Georgia Ionescu, 16, Romania
8. Sunu Lim, 17, South Korea
In addition, four other awards were given out:
Contemporary Dance Prize: Michele Esposito, Italy
Audience Favorite Award: Marina Fernandes de Costa Duarte, Brazil
Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Artistic Award: Denilson Almeida, 16, Brazil
Best Swiss Candidate Prize: Michele Esposito of Italy (a student at Tanz Akademie Zurich, in Switzerland)
Over the next month, the winners will work with the Prix de Lausanne to determine which school or company will be the best fit, with their decisions listed on the website.
The Prix's networking forum allows non-finalists, as well as those finalists who didn't receive a scholarship, to be considered by partner schools' teachers and directors. Those results will also be posted to the website later in the year. Congratulations to all!
After a long day of classical and contemporary performances, 67 candidates for this year’s Prix de Lausanne were whittled down to 20 finalists, including one American: 15-year-old Lauren Hunter. Dancers from Asia (Japan, South Korea and China) dominate the list, but there are also finalists from Australia, Brazil and various countries in Europe.
Here’s a rundown of who will be performing at the finals tomorrow:
Girls, 15-16 years old
Lauren Hunter, 15, USA (Peninsula School of Performing Arts)
Yuika Fujimoto, 15, Japan (Koike Ballet Studio)
Jessi Seymour, 15, Australia (Alegria School of Ballet)
Sunmin Lee, 16, South Korea (Seoul Arts High School)
Rafaela Henrique, 16, Brazil (Especial Academia de Ballet)
Diana Georgia Ionescu, 16, Romania (Tanz Akademie Zurich)
Boys, 15-16 years old
Koyo Yamamoto, 15, Japan (Acri Horimoto Ballet Academy)
Edoardo Sartori, 16, Italy (Academia Veneta di Danza e Balletto)
Denilson Almeida, 16, Brazil (Petite Danse School of Dance)
Joshua Jack Price, 16, Australia (Amanda Bollinger Dance Academy & The Dance Centre)
Jingkun Xu, 16, China (Shanghai Dance School)
Alessandro Frola, 16, Italy (Professione Danza Parma)
Girls, 17-18 years old
Ji Min Kwon, 17, South Korea (Seoul Arts High School)
Marina Fernandes da Costa Duarte, 17, Brazil (Académie Princess Grace)
Fangqi Li, 18, China (The Secondary Dance School of Beijing Dance Academy)
Boys, 17-18 years old
Sunu Lim, 17, South Korea (Sunhwa Arts High School)
Michele Esposito, 17, Italy (Tanz Akademie Zurich)
Taisuki Nakao, 17, Japan (Akademie des Tanzes)
Riku Ota, 18, Japan (John Cranko Schule)
Stanislaw Wegrzyn, 18, Poland (Ballett-Akademie Hochschule für Musik und Theater München)
Tune in to Prix de Lausanne’s website for a live stream of the finals Saturday, February 4, from 8am‑noon.
Set your alarms! For the third year in a row, Prix de Lausanne, the prestigious international ballet competition held annually in Lausanne, Switzerland, will be live-streamed. More than 70 young dancers, ages 15 to 18, have been chosen through a careful video selection process; 17 countries will be represented in total. The live-stream will go inside candidates' practice sessions, as well as their classes and coaching sessions. Catch interviews with dancers, teachers, choreographers and jury members, and, of course, the finals on February 4.
For those of you unable to watch (it is, after all, a six to nine hour time difference depending on your time zone), recorded live sessions will be available on ARTE Concert and YouTube the next day. Oh, and if you look closely, you may even see me! I’ll be attending the Prix to moderate three Daily Dance Dialogues, and to update you on how things are going.
Five American dancers will be among the candidates: Caroline Perry, 16, and Andrew Vesceri, 17, from the Houston Ballet Academy; Lauren Hunter, 15, from Peninsula School of the Performing Arts in Torrance, California; Bret Coppa, 17, from University of North Carolina School of the Arts; and Max Follmer, 17, from the School of Richmond Ballet. Tune in to the Prix de Lausanne YouTube channel to watch them live at the times listed below. (Hours are yet to be confirmed, so check the website for updates.)
Monday (1/30): 9–10:30 am EST
Tuesday (1/31): 9–10:30 am EST
Wednesday (2/1): 9–10:30 am EST
Thursday (2/2): 9–10:30 am EST
Friday (2/3)—Selections: 3:30–6:15 am EST (15–16 year olds)
8 am–11:30 am EST (17–18 year olds)
Saturday (2/4)—Finals: 8:30 am–12 pm