By Walter Rutledge
The 2015 Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) held their culminating gala event on Thursday, April 16, at the Koch Theatre, Lincoln Center. The evening aptly dubbed Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow showcased the talent of aspiring youth and their professional counterparts. The night was an exciting mix of promise, perfection and professionalism.
Due to the altruistic nature of the event it merits commentary, not a review. The goal was to inspire; and in the tradition of the art form it achieved this goal through observation, instruction and participation. Simply put in order to aspire to greatness they surrounded them with greatness.
From eleven year old Antonio Casalinho’s bravura infused opening performance of a variation from Don Quixote, through the assured partnering of 15-year-old Theophilus Pilette and Juliette Bosco, age 14 in Grand Pas Classique, to the final the rock steady performance of Paquita variation by Yu Kurihara, we knew you were watching the future unfold. All of the young performers were resplendent; they glowed with the enthusiasm and the infinite possibilities of the future. Each is a diamond in the rough.
Act two presented the finished and polished gems. These performers brought a level of understanding and sophistication acquired through honing the craft. There were four New York and three World premieres presented, but it was clear it was more about showcasing the artist’s individual gifts than presenting masterworks.
I remember see YAGP alumnus Calvin Royal III dance the Act III Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake in 2011 with ABT II. At that time his talent and potential were undeniable. In Anton Pimonov’s untitled duet, performed with Kristina Shapran, Royal’s port de bras had an unencumbered freedom that accentuated the ease of his buoyant jumps and Pimonov’s seamless movement.
The cleverest work on the program was Eric Gauthier’s Ballet 101 performed by Xander Parish. The first part of the dance described Gauthier’s version of the one hundred steps and position in ballet. Then in an almost Square dance fashion the steps were called out to create onstage pandemonium. Parish’s performance charmed the audience creating a sense of fun and merriment in an otherwise formal evening.
Quale by Wayne McGregor was the most esthetically complete work of the evening. Danced by YAGP Alumnus Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood the work had an underlining tension that drew in the audience. Hamilton’s pliant eroticism complimented Underwood’s cool command. The two slithered, stretched and contorted through a sensual and physical tête-à-tête before Underwood carried Hamilton into the upstage darkness.
The program closed with a rousing performance of the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Isabella Boylston had the appropriate grace and prowess, but this is one of the few variations where the spotlight is on the man. Kimin Kim did not disappoint his elevation in the opening saut de basque in pas de chat were impressive and the intense animaux voracity throughout wowed the audience.
There was only one disappointing note to this otherwise glorious evening. Act One closed with Grand Defile’ by Carlos dos Santos, Jr. As the stage swelled to over 250 performers from 30 countries the absence of African-American youth suddenly became evident (I counted only two). There were also no African- American Judges. I don’t think the omissions were intentional; and unless you had been personally marginalized you probably didn’t notice or might not understand the need for greater inclusiveness.
The Youth America Grand Prix is an important and prestigious forum. It provides talented young performers the opportunity to be seen by some of the most prominent directors from around the world. Still the most integral component of the six day event and year round programs is education.
YAGP reaches over 7,000 dance students annually. The organization offers workshops, scholarship auditions, master classes and audition classes in approximately 15 U.S cities and 5 international locations. It is safe to say Youth America Grand Prix will continue to mentor the next generation of exceptional artists and develop new audiences, while helping to bring dance into mainstream culture.
In Photo: 1) Shin-Yong Kim 2) Yu Kurihara 3) Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood 4) Isabella Boylston and Kimin Kim
Photography by Siggul/VAM