The 2018 Prix de Lausanne finalists. The 2019 competitors have just been announced. Photo Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Get to Know the 10 American Dancers Heading to the 2019 Prix de Lausanne

Competition season is just around the corner. Today, The Prix de Lausanne announced the 80 dancers that will head to Switzerland February 3–10 to compete for scholarships and apprenticeships to the Prix's partner schools and companies.

By the numbers, 363 dancers (273 girls and 90 boys) from 40 countries applied. Nine jury members reviewed the video submissions and selected 71 dancers over the course of three days. Add in the nine preselected competitors for a grand total of 80 dancers (44 girls and 36 boys) hailing from 20 countries.

Out of that group, 10 are from the U.S. Get to know them below. There's another reason to follow these Americans: Last year, Aviva Gelfer-Mundl, one of the American Prix de Lausanne competitors, took home a big prize.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Prix in the months to come!


Mackenzie Brown, Académie Princesse Grace 

While Mackenzie Brown is entering as a U.S. competitor, she trains in Monaco at the Académie Princesse Grace. Brown was the 2016–17 Miss World Dance and is a Russian Pointe ambassador. Last year, she participated in Prix de Lausanne's Partner Schools Choreographic Project.

Olivia Daugherty, International Ballet School

Olivia Daugherty, 15, studies at International Ballet School in Littleton, CO. She's no stranger to competitions: Daugherty has placed at the Youth America Grand Prix and the Denver Ballet Guild's Young Dancers Competition. She has also earned scholarships to the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Intensive and intensives at Académie Princesse Grace and University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Parker Garrison, International Ballet Academy 

Parker Garrison is a student at International Ballet Academy in Cary, NC. At age 12, he appeared on "America's Got Talent" and "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation." At the 2018 YAGP New York Finals, Garrison won a scholarship to Boston Ballet's 2019 Summer Intensive and a short-term scholarship to Académie Princesse Grace.

Erik Kim, University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Erik Kim is a high school student at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC. Starting at 1:30 in the above clip, you can see Kim in an UNCSA production of Paquita.

Mackenzie Kirsch, Dance Center of San Antonio 

Mackenzie Kirsch trains at the Dance Center of San Antonio in San Antonio, TX, a Vaganova school run by Vanessa Bessler, a former principal with the National Ballet of Panama. At the 2018 YAGP Finals, Kirsch won a scholarship to the 2018 Bolshoi Ballet Summer Intensive. She's also a member of the Children's Ballet of San Antonio and competed in the 2018 Vaganova Prix in St. Petersburg.

Soana Madsen, VM Ballet School

Soana Madsen trains abroad at VM Ballet School in Toulouse, France, which is directed by her parents, Matthew Madsen and Vinciane Ghyseens; her father was born in the U.S., while her mother is Belgian. In 2017, Madsen competed on the French classical talent TV show, "Prodiges."

Harold Mendez, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School

Harold Mendez is a student at the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School in Sarasota, FL. He has a long list of competition accolades, including medals from Cuba's Grand Prix, YAGP, World Ballet Competition and, most recently, a bronze medal in the junior male category at the 2018 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS.

Basia Rhoden, Master Ballet Academy 

A student at the Vaganova-based Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, AZ, Basia Rhoden took home a bronze medal at the 2018 YAGP Finals as well as placing at the 2018 ADC | IBC.

Rheya Shano, Brookline Ballet School

Rheya Shano trains at Brookline Ballet School outside of Boston. She won a gold medal in the Classical Junior Division at the 2017 Valentina Kozlova IBC and a bronze medal in the junior category of the 2018 USA IBC in Jackson, MS.

Julia Shugart, All American Classical Ballet School

Last but not least is Julia Shugart, a student at All American Classical Ballet School in Tampa, FL. Like the rest of the American contestants, Shugart is a regular on the ballet competition circuit.


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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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