Ballet Stars

Before They Were Stars, They Were Genée IBC Medalists

Stella Abrera at the Genée International Ballet Competition in 1995. Photo by Pete Jones, Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.

On September 7, The Genée International Ballet Competition—the Royal Academy of Dance's flagship event—gets underway in Lisbon, Portugal. Founded in 1931, the Genée recognizes top talent with medals and cash prizes, as well as exposure to company and academy directors. Competitors perform a classical variation, a commissioned piece by an emerging choreographer, and a "Dancer's Own" solo, choreographed by either the competitor, their teacher or a peer.

The 10-day competition, which hosts young dancers trained in the RAD syllabus from around the world, has helped launch the careers of many of today's ballet stars. Just who, exactly? Take a walk down memory lane as we reveal eight familiar faces.


Stella Abrera

Stella Abrera (far left) after winning the gold medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition. Photo by Pete Jones, Courtesy RAD.

The American Ballet Theatre principal won the gold medal in 1995, just one year before joining ABT's corps de ballet. As a teenager, the California native spent three years studying the RAD curriculum at the Halliday Dance Centre in Sydney, Australia.

Frances Chung

Frances Chung. Photo by Sasha Gusov, Courtesy RAD.

San Francisco ballet principal Frances Chung, then a student at the Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver, won the silver medal in 2000. She joined SFB the following year, becoming a principal in 2009.

Steven McRae

Steven McRae. Photo Courtesy RAD.

Australian Steven McRae, now a Royal Ballet principal, was still training in his native Sydney when he won gold at the Genée in 2002. "It was my first time dancing on an international stage," he says in the competition's promotional video. "I was learning so many new things, working with new teachers, learning new repertoire." A year later he would move to London to study at The Royal Ballet School.

Alex Wong

Alex Wong at the Genée IBC award ceremony. Photo Courtesy RAD.

The former Miami City Ballet soloist and "So You Think You Can Dance" star was catching everyone's attention well before he became a professional. Wong not only won the Genée bronze medal in 2003, but he also won the Audience Choice Award.

Xander Parish

Xander Parish. Photo Courtesy RAD.

Parish, who was named the Mariinsky Ballet's first British principal in July, won the silver medal in 2004, one year before joining The Royal Ballet's corps. Even though he told Pointe that he was always the "the last one to gain strength," his early success at the Genée revealed his potential for big things. Mariinsky artistic director Yuri Fateyev thought so, too, and recruited Parish into his company in 2010.

Céline Gittens

Céline Gittens. Photo by Patrick Baldwin, Courtesy RAD.

Now a principal at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Gittens won both the gold medal and the Audience Choice Award at the 2005 Genée. Born in Trinidad and trained in Vancouver by her mother and at the Goh Ballet Academy, Gittens joined BRB in 2006 and was promoted to principal earlier this year.

Nicole Ciapponi

Nicole Ciapponi shows off her silver medal and theatricality award. Photo by Christopher Wahl, Courtesy RAD.

Now a standout member of the Joffrey Ballet, Ciapponi won the silver medal and the Sandra Faire and Ivan Feacon Award for Theatricality in 2008. She joined the San Francisco Ballet in 2010 before moving to the Joffrey in 2015.

Francesca Hayward

Fancesca Hayward. Photo by David Tett, Courtesy RAD.

Then a student at The Royal Ballet School, Hayward's easy technique and natural acting skills made a big impression at the 2010 Genée. She won both the Audience Choice Award and the silver medal, and before the 2010–11 season was over she received a contract with The Royal Ballet. Hayward was named a principal in 2016.

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