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

Before They Were Stars, They Were Genée IBC Medalists

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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After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

Last month, Victoria Morgan announced that she will step down as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. The organization's board of trustees has formed a committee to conduct a national search for her replacement.

Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.

Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.

A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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