Ava Arbuckle is a dancer on the rise. At just 15, the Texas native has taken home top medals at Youth America Grand Prix and the ADC|IBC, and won the Grishko model search. In February, she was one of just ten dancers from the United States selected to compete in the 2020 Prix de Lausanne, and the only one to place; she came in second, winning a full scholarship to the ballet school of her choice, and received the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation's Best Young Talent Prize.
Though her competition plans for the remainder of the year have been halted due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Arbuckle remains undeterred, focusing on her ballet training and enjoying time with her family. Recently, we caught up with Arbuckle to hear all about her time at the Prix, how she's managing virtual training in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and her plans for the next year.
Where do you currently train?
This is my third year at a school called Elite Classical Coaching in Frisco, Texas. It's a small group of elite dancers who train mostly one-on-one with our two coaches, so we'll have classes in the morning and then go into private training to work on more specific things for each of us.
That sounds like a full schedule! Are you doing high school online?
Yes, I do my schooling online in the afternoons on my computer.
In addition to the Prix de Lausanne, in recent years you've placed at Youth America Grand Prix and ADC|IBC. When did you start competing?
I actually started dancing at a competition studio, training in all styles—hip-hop, tap, ballroom and ballet—and I started competing when I was eight. I first went to YAGP when I was nine, and I've done it every year since then. Competing definitely helped me to get really comfortable performing on the stage, and gave me an advantage coming into the ballet world, where not a lot of people have that experience as much as I did.
Ava Arbuckle rehearsing at the Prix de Lausanne
Gergory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne
When did you set your sights on the Prix de Lausanne?
When I first switched studios and started focusing on ballet, I didn't know much about anything and I was really eager to learn more. I started researching schools and companies and came across the Prix de Lausanne. I was so fascinated with all of the videos on YouTube, so I made the goal with my coach that whenever I was old enough, I wanted to hopefully get accepted to come to the competition. In November I found out I'd been accepted, and they sent out the list of variations.
Which variations did you choose to compete with?
For the classical variation, my coach and I chose The Awakening of Flora, which matched a lot of my strengths; it's very slow and fluid. And then for the contemporary variation we decided to challenge my comfort zone, and chose a solo called Abstract by Jean-Christophe Maillot. It has a lot of sharper movements that have some challenging coordination, but I really enjoyed working on it.
What was the rehearsal process like?
Since November, I rehearsed my variations about five days a week. Another big part of the competition that you're judged on is the classwork, so I focused a lot on that too. For part of the preparation we faced away from the mirror, so I was able to get comfortable with that at the competition. It was challenging at first, but helped a lot once I was there. I've become more able to focus on my movement quality, and where my focus is.
What do you do to keep the same variations fresh over so many months?
My coach always videos at the end of each private, so at night I always watch them and write down corrections. I also like watching the variations on YouTube, seeing different people do them, and looking at the choices they make and applying them to myself.
In February, you finally made it to the Prix. How was it?
I was definitely nervous going in, but really excited to perform and meet people from around the world. And I was fortunate because my coach, Ms. Catherine Lewellen and my mom came with me. The environment of the Prix de Lausanne really surprised me. It was so calm, which I was not expecting, and everyone was super supportive of each other. The teachers were amazing, and I made friends from all around the world. We still talk on Instagram all the time.
After a week at the Prix de Lausanne, you were selected to compete in the Final Round. What was that like?
It was the last day after a full week of classes every day, so I think all of our bodies were a little tired, but all of that adrenaline kept us going, plus supporting each other. It was the very next day after we'd performed for the first time, and found out that we were selected, so we definitely had the pressure of outperforming ourselves from the day before.
Ava Arbuckle competing in her contemporary variation at the Prix de Lausanne
Gergory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne
By placing in the top eight, you won a full scholarship to the school of your choice. Do you know where you'll be training next year?
I'll be attending the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany. We did lots of research and thought about my goals. What I wanted for the year really lined up with what they had to offer, and it was a match. It'll definitely be a new experience and the language barrier will be challenging for sure, but I'm really excited for it.
Like most people in the world right now, you're stuck at home, practicing social distancing in the wake of COVID-19. How are you managing so far?
I'm actually very lucky because my studio is holding virtual classes, and we're keeping up with our normal schedule every day, just through a device. The internet connection can be a challenge, but overall it's been super nice to have classes every day. I was planning on attending YAGP in New York, and was supposed to perform at the ADC|IBC gala, but unfortunately they've been cancelled. It's a little disappointing, but it's just giving me more time to focus on my technique and improving.
Do you have any advice for young dancers thinking about competing for the first time?
The biggest thing is confidence, and to really show that you're enjoying what you're doing, because if you're enjoying it the audience is going to enjoy it too.
Final question... What's your dream role?