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#TBT: When Ballet Stars Were YAGP Competitors

Michaela De Prince, Photo by Jordi Matas/Polaris/Newscom

It's Youth America Grand Prix time again, and when the competition wraps up this week, we'll meet some of tomorrow's potential stars. YAGP has a track record of predicting some of ballet's biggest names. Take a walk down memory lane with us and see for yourself.


Sarah Lane

Before Sarah Lane earned her soloist spot at American Ballet Theatre (and graced our June/July 2015 cover), she won the senior bronze medal at the 2002 YAGP. Here she is as a poised, expressive 17-year-old, performing a variation from Paquita.

​Michaela DePrince

Michaela DePrince first became a household name after the documentary First Position chronicled her journey at YAGP in 2010. The then-14-year-old ended up winning a scholarship to the JKO School. Now she's developing her artistry at Dutch National Ballet, where she was recently promoted to soloist.

Sergei Polunin

Before developing his "bad boy" reputation, Sergei Polunin was the Grand Prix winner in 2006—and you can see why in this variation, from his onstage charisma to his strong turns and seemingly-effortless jumps. These days, he's exploring new avenues and defying expectations, and is slated to appear in two upcoming Hollywood films.

Melissa Hamilton 

Melissa Hamilton won the Grand Prix in 2007, and joined The Royal Ballet that same year. After taking a leave of absence to stretch her boundaries at Dresden Semperoper Ballett for a year, she's currently back at the Royal, where she's a first soloist.

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Still via YouTube

American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.

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Still Courtesy Design Army

Hong Kong Ballet is celebrating its 40th anniversary in style. Today, the company released the new phase of its yearlong ad campaign, which includes the below film, a Wes Anderson-esque romp through the city fusing ballet with pop culture, filled with ferry boats, pom pom-wielding grannies and dim sum served in hot pink containers.

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Ballet Stars
Valery Panov and Natalia Makarova in The Sleeping Beauty, via YouTube.

The Soviet Union redefined standards in classical ballet in the 1960s, producing opulent story ballets and dancers with refined, yet daring technique. Dancers like Natalia Makarova and Valery Panov, who were among the leading performers with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky) at that time, were at the pinnacle of the art form. In this 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty, Makarova and Panov dance together as Princess Florine and the Bluebird. Despite the nostalgic trappings of the soundstage dance film, their strength and intention in this pas de deux make for a timeless performance.

Natalia Makarova as Princess Florine and Valery Panov as the Bluebird ('Sleeping Beauty' 1964) www.youtube.com

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Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Like so many little girls, I grew up watching the "four little swans" dance. It always pops up on your YouTube feed if you're a dancer, so I saw lots of different versions. I figured I fit the type—I'm short and like to do petit allégro—so to do it was definitely on my wish list as a professional.

Because everyone's coordination is different, I knew getting four girls to dance in such perfect unison would take a lot of rehearsal. Our ballet mistress, Louise Lester, had us practice the dance in chunks: First we'd walk through each section to synchronize our head movements and get our timing perfect, and then we'd run each part multiple times for stamina. We'd have hour-long rehearsals for a one-minute dance!

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