Above photo: Hanna Park courtesy of VAM Productions. Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) held its finals Wednesday at Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. The finals featured 86 dancers in four divisions: Junior Women and Men aged 12-14 and the Senior Women and Men’s 15-18 Division. It can be mind-numbing watching almost 100 dancers in short solos spanning three and a half hours, but it is also exciting given the high level of talent displayed by some of the young dancers. I remember seeing a young Isaac Hernandez (probably around 13 years of age) in the Junior Division in 2003, blown away by his highly advanced Don Quixote solo. There was no doubt he would have a great future. He is now a Lead Principal Dancer at the English National Ballet and danced in the Tribute to Julio Bocca Friday. I am sure I will have similar memories looking back on this year’s competition as some dancers will find their way to top ballet companies in the near future. YAGP has a successful track record of identifying young talent, with previous winners including Matthew Golding, Hee Seo, Sarah Lane, Joseph Philips (2002); Isaac Hernandez, Brooklyn Mack (2003); Joseph Gorak (2005); Sergei Polunin, Jeffrey Cirio (2006); Melissa Hamilton (2007); Vadim Muntagirov, Skylar Brandt (2008); Jeffrey Cirio (2009); Kimin Kim (2012),(see my previous article on ballet competitions for more information). These events are a big deal as representatives from ballet companies globally are there to find and evaluate talent for their schools and companies. Most Principal Dancers at major companies have a successful track record at these events.
Dancers selected short solos from classical ballet repertory with excerpts from La Esmeralda, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, Paquita dominating. Like most other competitions, some of the solos have an over-rehearsed feel as the dancers have likely gone through the solos hundreds of times in preparation for the big competition. The solos do play to the dancers’ strengths so they don’t give a complete representation of the skills of the dancer. Nonetheless, the short solos provide insight on technical capabilities such as turning ability and elasticity of jumps.
I don’t envy the judges, including Julio Bocca, Manuel Legris, and Susan Jaffe, as they sorted through many high-level performances–some of professional quality–trying to distinguish among the dancers. My favorites of the Wednesday finals were:
Madison Penny, Master Ballet Academy, AZ, Youth Grand Prix winner. Madison, 12 years of age, delivered a well controlled variation from La Esmeralda, one of the more popular dances that evening. In one segment, she performed an Italian fouetté-type step, banging her tambourine with her foot. She danced a variation from Esmerelda in the Stars of Tomorrow Gala the following evening showcasing highlights from the finals.
Hanna Park, Sunhwa Arts Middle & High School, Korea, 1st Place Junior Women. Hanna, 14, also danced a version from La Esmeralda with great grace and control with nice extension and musicality.
Elisabeth Beyer, Ellison Ballet, NY, Top 12 Junior Women, Natalia Makorova Award. I have watched Elisabeth, 14, in several Ellison Ballet Gala events; the long-limbed Elisabeth is always impressive with great extension. She danced a slower paced dance that I am not familiar with, Satanella. The pace in her solo picked up at the end, and she treated the receptive audience to nicely controlled pirouettes.
Julliette Bosco, Independent, 3rd Place Junior Women. Juliette danced at Ellison Ballet, but was listed in the program as having an independent affiliation. The 14-year old delivered a very smooth La Esmeralda variation, with great emphasis in her leaps. The future looks very bright for this talented dancer.
Takumi Miyae, Kondo Ballet, Japan, 1st Place Junior Men. Takumi, 13, was solid in a solo from Swan Lake with high double tours to solid landings, followed by effortless pirouettes. He also danced the following evening in the Stars of Tomorrow Gala then next evening.
Eliana Vogal, Ballet West Academy, UT, Top 12 Senior Women. The 17-year old was expressive in a solo from La Fille Mal Gardee.
Maho Higashi, Hakucho Ballet Academy, Japan, Top 12 Senior Women. Nice solo from Sleeping Beauty with good musicality.
Carolina Pegurelli, Grupo Jovern Paulista, Brazil. Solo from La Esmeralda performed with nice timing.
Shu Kurihara, Le Course de Ballet IWAKI, Japan. Shi, 17 was impressive in his solo from Talisman with good height on his leaps, nice turns, jeté cloche, and effortless double jeté entrelacé. A very complete solo.
Taro Kurachi, Ellison Ballet, NY, 1st Place Senior Men. Taro, 18, was the highlight of the evening. The 18-year-old with Ellison Ballet was stunning in a Don Quixote solo. He displayed big split double cabriole derriére, six turns in attitude, pirouette á la seconde. The crowd was roaring and wanted him back for a second bow. Showing mature discretion, he declined. The next evening in the Stars of Tomorrow Gala, he was equally phenomenal, delivering a professional quality solo. This time, he did give his fans a second bow. We will definitely be seeing more of Taro in the future.
Luciano Perotto, Rock School, PA, Top 12 Senior Men. Luciano was outstanding in his solo from Diana & Acteon demonstrating great leaping and turning abilities. Muscular in build like former ABT Principal Dancer José Manuel Carreño, he delivered a high-flying performance punctuated by a wild 540. I was surprised Luciano didn’t take a top three finish given his technical maturity and stage presence.
The YAGP website provides the list of the winners. Dancers from Ellison Ballet in New York City performed well. In addition to Taro taking 1st place in the Senior Men’s Division, Gloria Benaglia won 1st place in the Senior Women’s Division; Viola Pantuso was 2nd in the Junior Women’s Division, and Elisabeth Beyer was in the top 12 in the Junior Women’s Division. See my interview with Edward in which he reflects on his school and the importance of competitions.