As someone who has judged many ballet competitions, I've had the opportunity to see some breathtaking contemporary solos that combine fantastic technique with well-conceived choreography. Yet it's often hard for us judges to see the artistic intention behind these solos the way we can when watching a classical variation. For one thing, we're simply more familiar with classical ballet's repertoire and characters. But also, when a contemporary solo is just a string of one trick after another, or only delivers one emotion (such as overwrought angst), we don't get to see any artistic depth.
Ballet competitions are an exciting part of any dancer's career. Yet while scholarships, prize money, job offers and the prestige that comes with winning a medal are compelling incentives to participate in one, they're not the only benefits. In fact, many dancers who go home empty-handed still look fondly on the experience and go on to become successful professionals.
This week, the 2019 Genée International Ballet Competition kicks off in Toronto. From August 20-29, over 50 dancers, ages 15–19 and trained in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, will perform three solos in the hopes of winning a medal and a $10,000 cash prize. Many past medalists have gone on to illustrious careers—but so have those who didn't win anything. We spoke with three Genée alumni now dancing professionally who know what it's like not to place. Read on to find out why they deem their comp experiences a success, and how you can make the most of yours—whether you win or not.
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.
It's hard to imagine the ballet landscape today without Youth America Grand Prix. The annual competition attracts thousands of young dancers from all over the world, many hoping to win a scholarship to a major ballet school. This year, which marks the organization's 20th anniversary, roughly 12,000 students participated in YAGP's semi-finals in 32 cities here and abroad, and over 1,000 are in New York City this week for the final round. The stage at last night's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala was packed during the student defilé (kudos to them for not knocking each other over!), while top alumni—including Kimin Kim, Isabella Boylston, and Hee Seo—made triumphant returns.
In recent years, other scholarship competitions have popped up around the country. But before YAGP was founded 20 years ago, it was a much different story. For bunheads, "competition" was almost a dirty word, one associated with back flips, hulking trophies and flashy jazz studios. And that's exactly where YAGP co-founder Larissa Saveliev found herself in the late '90s. She and her husband, YAGP co-founder Gennadi Saveliev, had defected from Russia a few years earlier, and the former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and new mom was teaching ballet at a studio in New Jersey. On weekends, she would travel with the school to jazz competitions, an experience she found deflating.
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!
If you missed the Genée International Ballet Competition's live-streamed finals this weekend, we've got you covered. Last night, 17-year-old Joshua Green of Australia and 16-year-old Monet Hewitt of New Zealand were named this year's gold medalists in the men's and women's category, out of 14 finalists. Caitlin Garlick (Australia) and Basil James (United Kingdom) won silver medals, while Enoka Sato (Japan) and Jordan Yeuk Hay Chan (Hong Kong) took home bronze. Chan also won the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, and Green was given the Choreographic Award for Dancer's Own Variation.
Every two years, dancers from all over the world head to the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna to try their luck at the Varna International Ballet competition. Established in 1964, the competition famously takes place at a leafy outdoor theater near the Black Sea, and its roster of past winners (Sylvie Guillem, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova) reads like a who's who of dance history.
This year's IBC, which took place July 15–30, brought together 120 dancers from 34 countries. After the third and final round, the winners were announced over the weekend. Yuan Zhe Zi (Jessica) Xuan, a grand sujet at Dutch National Ballet, won first place in the senior women's category. Sinuo Chang of China took first in the senior men's, while his partner, Siyi Li, placed first in the junior women's category. A few familiar faces from the competition circuit also made the list. Antonio Casolinho, a student at the Academy of Ballet and Dance in Portugal and this year's Junior Grand Prix winner at Youth America Grand Prix, took home the Special Distinction Award, Varna's top prize for juniors. Katherine Barkman, a principal guest artist with Ballet Manila, placed second in the senior women's category, fresh off her silver medal win at June's USA IBC in Jackson.
Read on to see the full list of prizewinners, then head to Varna IBC's Facebook page to catch videos of the competition. Congratulations to all!
Though the World Ballet Competition based in Orlando, FL, is already under way, it's not too late for for you to start watching from the comfort of your own couch. A live stream of the competition is available through Saturday, June 16, on both the competition's website and Facebook page. Missed the first two days of the competition? You can watch them in full here.
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At the beginning of the month, 74 young dancers from around the world gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 46th Prix de Lausanne. At the end of a packed week, eight candidates were named prizewinners, including 16-year-old California-native Aviva Gelfer-Mundl. One of seven Americans to enter the competition, Gelfer-Mundl—who trains both at V&T Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, CA and privately with Alla Khaniashvilli and Nazgul Ryskulova Shinn—was the only one to leave as a prizewinner. Pointe caught up with this nascent star to hear about her former career as a rhythmic gymnast, her time at the Prix and her plans to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia next year.
Before ballet, you were a rhythmic gymnast. Why did you make the switch to ballet?
I started rhythmic gymnastics when I was around six or seven and I competed for several years. I was actually state champion and winner of the Junior Olympics in level 5. However at age 10 I got a really bad hamstring injury, and that caused me to reconsider if I really wanted to continue the sport. I wanted something easier on the body, so I started ballet and immediately fell in love with it.
After a packed week of class and coaching at the 46th Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, 21 of 74 selected candidates were invited to compete in the Finals on Saturday for the chance to win scholarships and apprenticeships to one of the Prix's esteemed partner schools and companies, of their choice. The nine-member jury panel of esteemed dance professionals announced the eight prizewinners, listed below. You can watch the full Finals performance and awards ceremony on the Prix de Lausanne Facebook page.
Shale Wagman, 17, Canada
Photo by Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy PDL.
Yesterday 74 young dancers from 16 different countries (including seven from the United States) gathered in Switzerland for the 46th edition of the Prix de Lausanne. The Prix is allowing ballet lovers everywhere to follow the week-long competition through a live video stream. From today through Thursday, the Prix is streaming an hour and a half of content each day from 3:00 to 4:30 pm Central European Time (9:00 am to 10:30 am EST) showing a mix of rehearsals, coaching, interviews and classes, with commentary by master teachers Naomi Stikeman and Jason Beechy. On Friday and Saturday the entirety of the Selections and Finals process will be live streamed. The Selections run from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm CET (3:30 am to 11:00 am EST) with commentary by Monique Loudières, and the Finals will be presented by 1980 Prix de Lausanne prize winner Deborah Bull on Saturday from 2:30 to 6:30 pm CET (8:30 am to 12:30 pm EST). The Finals can also be viewed in Chinese with commentary by 1994 prize winner CAO Chi. The daily live stream can be found on the Prix de Lausanne Facebook page. And if you don't want to get up in the middle of the night to watch live, that's no problem; the videos will remain on the page.
"When I compete, I'm the type to get nervous and shaky," says 19-year-old Eleanor Rodriguez. Growing up, the Phoenix, Arizona native had competed in figure skating and archery, but last month she got her first taste competing in the ballet world when she traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for the Royal Academy of Dance's Genée International Ballet Competition. Rodriguez, who has been most recently studying at the Russian-based Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, trained mainly in the RAD style under Mary Mo Adams. "I've been working in the curriculum my whole life, and the Genée is the height of that experience."
Rodriguez was also the only American participant, adding to the pressure. "I definitely feel like I have to represent," she said a few days before leaving for the competition. "But I've been training really hard. I'm as ready as I can be." She prepared two solos ahead of time—the second Shades variation from La Bayadère and a "Dancer's Choice" neoclassical solo choreographed by her Master Ballet Academy teacher Albert Cattafi. Once in Lisbon, Rodriguez enjoyed four intense days leading up to the semi-finals that included classes, coaching sessions with RAD faculty and learning another solo created especially for the Genée by Portuguese choreographer César Augusto Moniz.
Photo by Ed Flores, Courtesy RAD.
While Rodriguez, who joins Ballet Arizona's Studio Company this fall, did not make it to the final round, she felt the experience was well worth it. "I loved receiving coaching and having an opportunity to perform." We asked her to share how she stayed calm and maintained perspective during the competition, below.