Gabriel Figueredo dancing Chroma by Wayne McGregor at YAGP's 2019 Gala. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

Get To Know 2019 YAGP Grand Prix Award Winner, 18-Year-Old Gabriel Figueredo

If you don't recognize Gabriel Figueredo's name yet, it's only a matter of time. Not only did the 18-year-old win the Grand Prix Award at the 2019 Youth America Grand Prix New York Finals, but he took second place at the 2019 Prix de Lausanne. For Figueredo, returning to YAGP this year was like a comeback tour; He won the Youth Grand Prix Award in 2013. The Brazilian-born dancer is long and lithe, but exhibits careful control while onstage. His extreme flexibility and extension are matched by a penchant for turning; his Instagram account is filled with videos from the studio.


Since his 2013 YAGP win, Figueredo has been training at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany. And now his schooling is coming to a close. His Prix de Lausanne medal granted him a choice of company; Figueredo will be joining the Stuttgart Ballet this fall. We touched base with this dancer on the rise to hear all about his whirlwind competition experience this year, and what he's looking forward to in a professional career.

When did you first start competing?

I had been to competitions in Brazil, but YAGP in 2013 was my first one in the United States. Then I took a five year break before going back to competitions this year.

As a student in Brazil, had you always hoped to train abroad?

I didn't really want to go anywhere. I didn't expect so much. I thought it was just for the experience, but when I got the scholarship to the John Cranko School I was really happy.

What was it like moving to Germany at age 13?

I thought it would be harder. I really missed my family at the beginning because I was so young, but it was amazing because there a lot of Brazilians here and they all helped me a lot. Getting used to the training was hard at first too. Here, it's Vaganova, but in Brazil I was used to a mix of American and French technique.

Figueredo at the 2019 Prix de Lausanne

Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy PDL

This year you attended both YAGP and Prix de Lausanne. What do you see as the main differences between the two competitions?

When my director proposed that I go to both I was really happy and excited.They're so different. At the Prix de Lausanne you get the scholarship and then you get to choose where you want to go, but at YAGP all of the directors choose you.

What was the highlight of the YAGP New York Finals?

Of course getting the prize. Also getting to take classes with different teachers, and getting to know more people. And dancing at Lincoln Center.

Did you approach YAGP differently this year than you did in 2013?

A lot of people remembered me from 2013, so it was nice to be back, though a little overwhelming. And I was actually much more nervous this time. In 2013 it was more for fun, because I didn't really know what it was; I was really so small. But this year I got so nervous, I think because people were expecting a lot.

Most people enter YAGP in the hopes of getting a top school scholarship or company contract, but when you entered you already had both. What were you hoping to get out of the competition?

It was more about the experience; coming back, and also getting to know people. It was all amazing, I will never forget it. But I'm really looking forward to starting my career now; no more competitions!

Figueredo at the YAGP Finals

VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP

What made you choose Stuttgart Ballet?

At Lausanne I had many choices from partner companies, but Stuttgart has been a dream of mine since entering the John Cranko School. I also really like the Royal Ballet and Mariinsky.

Do you have a dream role?

I like classical roles more than contemporary. My favorites are Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Onegin.

What have you learned from competing?

It always comes down to nerves for me. Once I was done I realized that I really didn't need to be that nervous.

Do you have any advice for young dancers who are just starting to compete?

Believe in yourself no matter what happens; always keep going.

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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