Youth America Grand Prix: Young Dancers Dazzle

Above photo: Elisabeth Beyer courtesy of VAM Productions. Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) held its finals Wednesday at Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. The finals featured 95 dancers in four divisions: Junior Women and Men aged 12-14 and the Senior Women and Men’s 15-18 Division. 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, much like the NFL Scouting Combine in which pro football teams try to sort out post-college prospects. At ballet competitions like YAGP, representatives from ballet companies globally show up 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 select short solos from classical ballet repertory with excerpts from La Esmeralda, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Coppélia, 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 play to the dancers’ strengths so they don’t give a complete representation of the skills of the dancer. The competitions tend to favor technical wizardry with each competitor trying to outdo each other by blasting out more turns and high-flying leaps over subtle interpretations and dramatic range. Nonetheless, the short solos provide insight on technical capabilities such as turning ability and elasticity of jumps.

It can be mind-numbing watching almost 100 dancers in short solos spanning over three and a half hours. But it was great fun watching the great young talent, seeing such impressive technique (some rivaling professional dancers) at such a young age.

Here are some of my highlights:

Junior Women

Remie Madeleine Goins (13), International City School of Ballet, Georgia. Remie, displayed great timing and delicate pointe work in a solo from Coppélia, with nice 3-4 pirouettes on pointe, some with hands on her hips. Remie took third place in this division.

Yo Nakajima (13), Symphony Ballet Studio, Japan, was smooth in her solo from Giselle with gorgeous turns. Yo took home the Silver medal.

Keaton Gillespie (13), Ellison Ballet, NY,  showed off her lavish extensions and subtle pointe work in a solo from Talisman. Keaton finished in the top 12.

Suyeon An (14), Sunhwa Arts School, Korea, was confident and controlled in her Kitri solo from Don Quixote with nice double piqué turns with hands on her hips. Suyeon finished in the top 12.

Junior Men

Misha Broderick (12), Master Ballet Academy, Arizona. Misha’s turns were smooth and mature in his variation from Don Quixote. Misha finished in the top 6 in the Junior Men’s division.

Antonio Casalinho (14), Academia Annarella, Portugal, already has a great fan base, with shrieks and screams from the Koch Theatre crowd when he walked on stage. Not many dancers at this age have a Wikipedia page and a website. Antonio is a pro at ballet competitions as he has competed in many over his short career. His Diana & Acteon solo demonstrated maturity well beyond his age, with strong technique and bravura. He has nice double cabriole derriére and outrageous skater type turns in wide retiré, similar to Daniil Simkin’s turns. Antonio was on fire with turns in second position, pulling in to five turns in attitude in addition to very rarely performed triple tours. Antonio won the Youth Grand Prix prize.

Masaki Suetsugu (14), Aristo Ballet Studio, Japan, delivered a strong solo from Flames of Paris with at least six pirouettes and nice jeté cloche. Masaki took home the Silver medal

Senior Women

Basia Rhoden (15), Master Ballet Academy, Arizona, gave a Gillian Murphy-type performance in the Odalisque slave girl pas de trois dance from Le Corsaire with smooth and steady turns, including one turn with an outrageous six pirouettes on pointe. Basia tied for third place.

Elisabeth Beyer (15), Ellison Ballet, danced the familiar solo from La Esmeralda to perfection. The Moscow International Ballet Competition winner in the Junior Division last year has great extension put to good use kicking her tambourine while turning. Also, great control in quad pirouettes. Elisabeth took the Gold in the Senior Division, impressive for a 15-year-old competing against dancers up to 18 years of age.

Kaeli Ware (17), Rock School, Philadelphia. Kaeli was solid in her Paquita solo, with very nice turns.

Seon Mee Park (18), Korea National University, Korea also delivered a lovely Paquita solo with impressive extension. Seon tied for third place.

Senior Men

Yourh America Grand Prix 2018

Yuma Matsuura, Endo Ballet, Don Quixote. Photo courtesy of VAM Productions.

Yuma Matsuura (15), Endo Ballet, Japan, gave a rousing solo from Don Quixote with smooth control on his endless turns. Yuma took the Gold medal

Takayuki Moriwaki (15), Koike Ballet Studio, Japan, was forceful in his impressive Flames of Paris solo. Takayuki finished in the top 12.

Stephen Myers (17), Next Generation Ballet, Florida, also gave a strong Flames of Paris solo, with endless turns in second position. Stephan’s teacher is Philip Neal, former Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet. It is strange that Stephen did not finish in the top 12 given his strong performance.

Masanori Takiguchi, (18), Joffrey Academy of Dance, Illinois, was next in line to deliver an impressive Flames of Paris solo. It was difficult to rank order the Flames solos in terms of quality, but Masanori had a higher level of razzle dazzle, with some innovative steps and the only 540 of the evening. Like Stephen Myers, I’m not sure why Masanori did not finish in the top 12.