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Dance: Extraordinary International Dance Awards Event

(Photo credit: Liza Voll)

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES July/ August 2012

Shougo Hayami,  Variation from Les Sylphides,  Choreographer: A. Bournoville
Shougo Hayami,
Variation from Les Sylphides,
Choreographer: A. Bournoville

Lovers of any art are always concerned about the future of that art.  Who will be there to carry it forward? Who will be there to honor the past?

One of the most inspirational evenings I have spent at a dance event very favorably allayed all fears about the future of ballet.  It was the finals of the Youth of America Grand Prix (YAGP). These prestigious prizes for schools, dancers and choreographers have continued to grow and flourish over the past 12 years, encouraging new choreographers and dancers and honoring achievements of established dancers and choreographers.

I attended one of the three nights – the one called “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow.”

The "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" title had led me to believe the new young dancers were going to be coupled with current professionals.  That was not at all how it worked, but I was not disappointed.  I found the student dancers had such technical skill and enthusiasm that watching them was a thrill.

In fact, they were more exciting to watch than the professionals — because one expected so much less from them!

The first part of the program spotlighted the finalists from the thousands of contenders.  The second part showed the current work of popular stars of today.

I was impressed with the excellent male dancers — since so often I find new young companies are struggling along with less than exciting male dancers. I was particularly impressed by Shougo Hayami, who danced Variation from Les Sylphides.  This young man fairly flew across the stage; he was lithe and graceful and he danced as if he and the music were one — as if he were the living incarnation of the music itself. (My guest and a dance writer who sat next to me were also awestruck by this young man who was named one of TOP 12 Men.)

Having been so delighted with so many of the dancers and the professional timing of the entire evening, I was eager to talk to the founder of this remarkable awards event. An interview was arranged.

Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild, Furiant (World Premiere), Choreographer: Justin Peck,
Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild, Furiant
(World Premiere), Choreographer: Justin Peck,

I asked founder Larissa Saveliev what inspired her to start this national dance competition. She replied, “Ballet competitions in Russia were quite popular and I started to look for them in the US. I discovered they didn't exist. I valued the experience Russian competitions provided for ballet students so much that I wanted to give students in the US a similar experience. It took about a year of preparation before we hosted our first competition.
“We fortunately received sponsorship from Grishko and Dance Magazine for our first competition. They have been two of our longest and strongest supporters. Additionally, a few of our first scholarship presenters, including American Ballet Theatre and Royal Ballet School were extremely helpful and continue to be active, supportive presenters.”

In the twelve years since its establishment YAGP grew from 500 students who participated through the whole season to the 2012 season, when they had 5,000 participants compete in total at all of their Semi Final competitions. An impressive growth in 12 years!

Larissa is not resting on any laurels, however.  As she remarked, “I always think there's room for improvement and growth. Of course, we would like to continue to offer more scholarships, but also we would like to give more performing opportunities so that students are more prepared when entering a company. We would like to offer our participants broader opportunities which encompasses training, performing and of course as many jobs as possible.” Admirable goals indeed.

I wondered what has been her greatest satisfaction in the last 12 years.

Derek Dunn,  Gold medal winner in senior age division
Derek Dunn,
Gold medal winner in senior age division

“Most definitely the kids. They are the reason we continue year after year. We continue to follow our participants well after they have competed, and it's always such a pleasure to hear that they received a job or a promotion or a new role. 

“For example, it's so wonderful to see one of our first international scholarship recipients, Cory Stearns, perform with American Ballet Theatre as a Principal Dancer, see Melissa Hamilton, Soloist with The Royal Ballet, premiere in "Romeo and Juliet", Daniel Deivison be promoted to Soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Jeffrey Cirio be promoted to Principal with Boston Ballet.            

“We, of course, are proud of all of our participants and not only try to educate tomorrow's dancers but also tomorrow's audiences.”

Then I queried about their selection of choreographers and how they determined to whom to offer awards and assistance.

“When we're looking for choreographers to feature in our ‘Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow’ Gala, I consider a number of factors: first and foremost, the quality of the work. We try to support artists in all stages of development and in their careers. We also like to highlight a variety of influences and styles by more established choreographers such as Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky and Benjamin Millepied.

We don't only like to discover new dancers but also choreographers.  That is how our "Emerging Choreographers" Series came to fruition, which gave Marcelo Gomes his first opportunity to choreograph work. It has also featured work by Edwaard Liang, Susan Jaffe and Justin Peck. “

Among the dozens of prize winners, there were:

   Youth Grand Prix – Blake Kessler (14),
Orlando Ballet School, FL, USA

   Grand Prix – Kimin Kim (19), Korean University of the Arts,

 Gold – Adhonay Soares da Silva (14),
Bale Jovem Do Centro Cultural Gustav Ritter, BRAZIL
 Silver – Giuseppe Basillio (14),
 Bronze – David Preciado (13),
Los Angeles Ballet School, CA, USA

 Gold – Juliet Doherty (14),
Fishback School of the Dance, NM, USA
 Silver – Grecia Marian Meza Posada (12),
Escuela Superior de Musica Y Danza de Monterrey,           MEXICO
 Bronze – Maria Clara Coelho (13),
Balletarrj Escola de Danca, BRAZIL

 Gold – The Rock School for Dance Education, PA, USA – Tempestuous
 Silver - AIS Ballet Japan, JAPAN – WaBu
 Bronze – Esceula Superior de Musica Y Danza de Monterrey – Voces del Cuerpo