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.)
It's Youth America Grand Prix time again, and when the competition wraps up this week, we'll meet some of tomorrow's potential stars. YAGP has a track record of predicting some of ballet's biggest names. Take a walk down memory lane with us and see for yourself.
Before Sarah Lane earned her soloist spot at American Ballet Theatre (and graced our June/July 2015 cover), she won the senior bronze medal at the 2002 YAGP. Here she is as a poised, expressive 17-year-old, performing a variation from Paquita.
Last week’s Youth America Grand Prix Finals was a display of impressive dancing from hugely talented young competitors. Ranging from 9 to 19 years old and hailing from countries as far away as Switzerland and Australia, they gathered in New York City to compete in the senior, junior and pre-competitive age divisions. The awards ceremony was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last Friday, and prizes went beyond medals and bragging rights. A number of ballet organizations worldwide, including San Francisco Ballet School and The Royal Ballet School, handed out training scholarships, and companies like Houston Ballet and Dutch National Ballet even awarded some professional contracts. Here are 2016's top YAGP winners:
Joonhyuk Jun (17)—UK/Korea
1st Place: Yu Hang (16)—China
2nd Place: Thays Golz (18)—Brazil
3rd Place: Makensie Henson (15)—Australia
1st Place: Narcisco Alejandro Medina Arias (17)—Cuba
2nd Place: Stanislaw Wegrzyn (17)—Germany/Poland
3rd Place: Motomi Kiyota (15)—Japan
Youth Grand Prix
Antonio Casalinho (12)—Portugal
1st Place: Ashley Lew (12)—USA
2nd Place: Eri Shibata (14)—Japan
3rd Place (tie): Brigid Walker (14)—USA
3rd Place (tie): Kotomi Yamada (13)—Japan
1st Place: Itsuku Masuda (12)—Japan
2nd Place (tie): David Perez (12)—Mexico
2nd Place (tie): Samuel Gest (14)—USA
3rd Place (tie): Sheung-Yin Chan (14)—Hong Kong
3rd Place (tie): Yago Guerra (14)—Brazil
Outstanding Artistry Award
Rafael Valdez Ramirez (18)—Colombia
Natalia Makarova Award
Kenedy Kallas (15)—USA
Shelley King Award for Excellence
Jolie Rose Lombardo (12)—USA
Mary Day Artistry Award
Julia Rose Sherrill (17)—USA
Vincenzo Di Primo (18)—Austria
Madison Penney (11)—USA
Outstanding Choreographer Award
Click here for a full list of 2016 YAGP winners.
New York City has been taken over by bunheads. After months of regional semi-finals, roughly 1,000 Youth America Grand Prix finalists are here this week vying for scholarships to 30 of the world’s leading ballet academies. The most promising will have one last chance to impress the judges in the final round at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tonight. And for the first time, the performances will be live-streamed on YAGP’s website from 7:00 – 10:00 pm EST. So whether you’re rooting for one of your classmates or simply want to check out ballet’s future stars, be sure to tune in here. Winners will be announced Friday.
Theo Pilette performs at the 2015 YAGP Finals. Photo by Taylor Brandt, Courtesy Ellison Ballet
Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition, is about to get even bigger. The organization is holding its first semi-final in Beijing, China this weekend, and just announced that it is adding a new semi-final location and celebratory gala in Salt Lake City, UT, February 26–28.
Utah’s very own Ballet West is hosting the event, where young dancers will have an opportunity to take master classes at the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre (the company’s new, $33 million state-of-the-art facility) and audition in it’s home theater. As an added bonus, YAGP will present a gala performance February 27 featuring an international roster of ballet stars soon to be announced, as well as past and present winners. The evening will also honor the life and career of Bruce Marks, former artistic director of Ballet West and Boston Ballet and former chairman of the USA International Ballet Competition. To register, click here.
Bruce Marks (far right) announcing the winners at YAGP's 2015 semi-final in Tampa. Courtesy YAGP
If you’re a fan of First Position, you may want to tune in this Friday to “Dance School Diaries” on the DanceOn YouTube channel. The new web-based reality series follows four Southern California students as they prepare for the 2014 Youth America Grand Prix Finals in New York City. Scheduled through mid-October, new episodes air every Friday at 10:00 am PST.
This Friday’s show follows Madison Chappell, now 15, a student at the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, CA. Chappell only recently started training seriously, and admits that playing catch up has been a frequent source of stress. Pointe spoke with Chappell about her experience filming the show, as well as the challenges of being a late-starter.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I was 12, but I didn’t start training seriously until I was 14. I was kind of a tomboy when I was younger, and played sports like soccer and track. But then I started getting bored.
I went to a Thanksgiving party and met a former principal dancer with the Korea National Ballet. She said, “You look like you could be a ballerina. You should try a ballet class.” She was so beautiful that I wanted to be just like her. I started taking classes for fun at a studio that wasn’t very serious. Then three months in, a Vaganova-trained ballet teacher named Michael Houston came in. He emphasized hard work and discipline, which I loved. Eventually, I wanted a more serious atmosphere, so I transferred to the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy last year.
Your teacher, Dmitri Kulev, demands a lot from you on the show.
He creates an amazing atmosphere in class. Everyone in the studio looks up to him and respects him so much. He’s not a mean teacher. He just has high expectations for his students and pushes us to get the best out of every single class.
This was you first experience at YAGP. What was it like?
It was very nerve-racking and exciting—especially with the filming, because everything was heightened. I think many dancers put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to live up to their own expectations. There’s always something you could’ve done better, and I think I let that get to me a little. I’d get too impatient and would want to do everything perfectly right away. And that’s just not the way ballet works. I also felt pressure because I started later, but want a professional career. So it got to a point where I'd think, “I’m not good enough, I’m not ready yet, I’m not experienced enough.”
What was it like having cameras on you all the time? Did that make you more nervous?
The film crew came about three days a week, and then they came a bit more towards the competition. But I think having cameras around helped me be less nervous. Rather than stare at the stage right before going on, I got to talk about my experience and how I was feeling. I didn’t have time to really think and let it get to me.
What was your biggest takeaway from the competition?
It’s an incredible mix of cultures—you get to see other people’s artistry and they get to see yours. You gain exposure you wouldn’t get if you stayed in the same place—you see what the entire world is doing in ballet.
The experience also helped reinforce my favorite saying, which I learned in track: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard enough.” When you want something, you have to go out and get it. Also, I realized that it’s not fair to compare yourself to someone else. Don’t let the position of others daunt you and make you feel like you can’t do something.
To follow Chappell’s story--and learn how she fared at YAGP--tune in to DanceOn on Fridays at 10:00 am PST. Click here to catch up on past episodes.
How do choreographers create a ballet? Youth America Grand Prix invites audiences to take a peek inside the process this Monday, February 4, with a special benefit program called "Creating the Dance with Marcelo Gomes." Although the American Ballet Theatre principal has only recently begun choreographing, a number of his works have been seen at YAGP galas.
Gomes will show how a ballet develops in the studio, using ABT soloists Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi as guinea pigs. He will also collaborate with a composer and live musicians. The program will be held at New York City Center studios at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $150, and proceeds go to support YAGP's scholarship fund. Find out more at yagp.org.
Leave it to Nigel to utilize all available outlets in his quest to bring dance to a wider audience. His latest project is Dance School Diaries, a web-based reality series that follows four Southern California dancers as they prepare for Youth America Grand Prix.
The show will air each Friday, and there will be 14 episodes from July 18 to mid-September. The producers are also planning to release additional content throughout the show’s run.
Though the billing is a bit dramatic—it’s unlikely that doing poorly, or just not dancing your best, at YAGP will “break” your career—it’s always interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at any aspect of the ballet world.
See the trailer below.