Prix de Lausanne winner Antonio Casalinho

Nikita Alba, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

Congratulations to the 2021 Prix de Lausanne Winners!

The 2021 Prix de Lausanne Video Edition came to a close this weekend. While this year's competition was held virtually due to COVID-19, six young finalists—four boys and two girls— were named prizewinners, having earned the chance to enter one of the Prix's prestigious partner schools and companies.

The winners were chosen out of a pool of 20 finalists, whittled down from the competition's 78 participants. Each dancer submitted classwork, a classical variation and a contemporary solo via video. A nine-member jury evaluated their submissions live from Lausanne, Switzerland. Fans around the world could follow along on livestream; the Prix estimates the videos have been watched a cumulative 500,000 times. While Saturday's live-streamed awards ceremony lacked the usual fresh-from-the-stage vim, the finalists were able join in via Zoom, giving viewers a chance to watch them receive the exciting news in real time. (You can catch the finals, as well as the rest of the competition, on the Prix's YouTube channel.)

Read on below to get to know the 2021 prizewinners.

António Casalinho

Antonio Casalinho, shirtless and in black jeans , socks and ballet slippers, presses over his toes with two bent knees, lifting his arms up slightly.

Casalinho in costume for his contemporary variation

Nikita Alba, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

António Casalinho is becoming something of a household name. The 17-year-old Portugal native can now add the Prix de Lausanne's top prize and its Contemporary Dance Award (which he shared) to his long list of competition wins, which includes first place at Youth America Grand Prix's 2020 Virtual Pas De Deux Competition, Grand Prix IBCC China in 2019, and a special distinction at the 2018 Varna International Ballet Competition, among others. Casalinho trains at the Conservatório Internacional de Ballet e Dança Annarella Sanchez in Leiria, Portugal, a small school that's gained international recognition in recent years. In his acceptance speech, broadcast via Zoom on Saturday, Casalinho thanked his colleagues, teachers and family, while his coach, Annarella Sanchez, warmly embraced him in a hug.

Luca Abdel-Nour

Wearing a red bolero jacket, black tights and cummerbund and  a white shirt, Luca Abdel-Nour does a large sissone to the right, his legs in a deep split.

Luca Abdel-Nour

Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

Seventeen-year-old Luca Abdel-Nour, is quickly becoming one to watch. Abdel-Nour hails from Egypt, and is in his final year at Switzerland's Tanz Akademie Zürich. He was also named the Prix's Best Swiss Candidate and its Web Audience Favorite. According to CairoScene, Abdel-Nour is the first Egyptian to compete in the Prix de Lausanne. "I have watched this competition every year since I can remember, and always thought of it as a distant goal," he told the online magazine, adding that he hopes his participation shows the next generation that they can pursue their dreams regardless of their circumstances.

Andrey Jesus Maciano

Andrey Jesus Maciano, a Brazilian teenage boy, wears a white Harlequin costume with blue and red diamonds. He kneels onto the floor on his right leg and holds his hands to his heart, smiling wistfully.

Andrey Jesus Maciano

Cida Ladaga, Courtesy Prix de lausanne

Brazilian dancer Andrey Jesus Maciano took home both the third place prize and the Best Young Talent Award. The 16-year-old trains at Balé Joven de São Vicente in the coastal city of São Vicente, Brazil. According to a rapid-fire Q&A video published by the Prix de Lausanne last week, Maciano's dream role is Siegfried, his favorite pirouettes are in arabesque, and he prefers turns to adagio.

Seojeong Yun

Seojeong Yun, a teenage female ballet student, wears a black and red tutu and does a giant jet\u00e9 with both legs split in second position and her arms out to the side. She wears a large, confident smile.

Seojeong Yun

Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

Seojeong Yun is one of only two ballerinas to place in the competition. At 17 years old, Yun hails from South Korea, and trains at Seoul Arts High School. Yun was the 2018 Grand Prix Junior winner at the Korean IBAA competition.

Shunhei Fuchiyama

Shunhei Fuchiyama, a teenage Japanese ballet student, wears an all-white cavalier costume and performs a large split sissone to the right. He looks out towards the audience with a smile.

Shunhei Fuchiyama

Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

A finalist at the 2019 Prix de Lausanne, Shunhei Fuchiyama, now 18, is one of this year's prizewinners. Raised in the Japanese city of Saitama, Fuchiyama trains at the HARID Conservatory in Florida. "We are proud and happy for you, Shunhei," the conservatory wrote on its Instagram page. "Congratulations and thank you to his teachers in Japan, Massimo and Miwa Acri, and his teacher at HARID, Meelis Pakri."

Ashley Coupal

Ashley Coupel, a Canadian ballet dancer of Asian decent, wears a blue and white peasant costume dress and performs a tendu devant effac\u00e9. She holds her skirt with her left hand and bends slightly over her curves her right arm, with a shy smile and downward eyes.

Ashley Coupal

Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

Ashley Coupal is originally from Vancouver, Canada. The 18-year-old dancer is in her first year with Orlando Ballet II, having previously trained at the Goh Ballet Academy. Coupal is no stranger to competitions: she won a gold medal at the 2018 World Ballet Competition and the 2018 and 2017 Global Dance Challenge, among others.

Young Creation Award Winners

This year the Prix de Lausanne introduced a Young Creation Award for budding choreographers. Out of five finalists, the awards were presented to Samuel Winkler of the School of Hamburg Ballet for his solo Supress, and to Maya Smallwood of Canada's National Ballet School for her variation Unravel. Both pieces will be included among the 2022 Prix de Lausanne contemporary repertoire selections.

Other Awards

Rui Cesar Cruz, a teenge Afro-Brazilan dancer, does a relev\u00e9 effac\u00e9 to the left and arches his back dramatically, his arms stretched up and behind him. He wears a black mesh shirt, gray booty shorts and brown socks.

18-year-old Rui Cesar Cruz, from Brazil, was one of two dancers who won the Contemporary Prize

Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

Best Young Talent Prize: Andrey Jesus Maciano

Contemporary Dance Award: António Casalinho and Rui Cesar Cruz

Best Swiss Candidate: Luca Abdel-Nour

Web Audience Favorite Award: Luca Abdel-Nour

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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Abra Geiger, from the 2019 YAGP Season Finals. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP

YAGP Finals Kick Off in Tampa This Week—and You Can Watch Them Live!

In a hopeful sign that things may be slowly getting back to normal, Youth America Grand Prix is hosting its 2021 Season Finals live and in person this week in Tampa, Florida. Approximately 800 young dancers will perform at the annual scholarship audition, held May 10–16 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Over $400,000 in scholarships will be awarded, with school directors from all over the world adjudicating both in person and online. The entire event will be livestreamed on YAGP's website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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