What Has Youth America Grand Prix Done for Ballet? We Asked the Dancers

What Has Youth America Grand Prix Done for Ballet? We Asked the Dancers

This week, over a thousand dancers travelled to New York to participate in Youth America Grand Prix’s high-stake finals.

Over the course of six days, young ballet dancers ages 9 to 19 filled the halls of SUNY Purchase for intense rounds of competitions and scholarship classes — the outcome of which could very well determine the trajectory of their professional careers. On Thursday, they joined some of ballet’s biggest names at Lincoln Center for the glimmering display of supernova talent at YAGP’s “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” gala.

“It’s not just about competing, it’s about dancing,” said António Casalinho — already a medaled YAGP veteran at the age of 15 — in an interview with ALL ARTS. “I’m here to dance so I can show myself and find myself in this world.”

Youth America Grand Prix 2019 New York Gala.
Youth America Grand Prix alumni at the 2019 New York Gala. Photo: Youth America Grand Prix.

The competition, now in its 20th year, has awarded nearly $4 million in scholarships for ballet hopefuls to attend top-ranking schools and has produced a dizzying list of 450 alumni representing 80 companies around the globe. But beyond its library of success stories, what makes YAGP stand out is its dedication to placing students in dance programs, ensuring that they not only pull in trophies (which many do) but that they also form the foundations needed to build a sustainable career.

“You don’t have to be the winner to get the prize,” said Larissa Saveliev, YAGP co-founder and artistic director. “You don’t have to be first, second, or third. You just have to be spotted — noticed by one of the school directors. And that’s you’re biggest prize. You’re going to get your acceptance to the school.”

We corresponded with YAGP alumni Lauren Lovette, Scout Forsythe, Calvin Royal III, along with YAGP competitors Arianna Crosato Neumann and Olivia Daugherty about their experiences with the competition, why they chose ballet and more.

Lauren Lovette
Choreographer and New York City Ballet Principal Dancer

How has Youth America Grand Prix affected your career?

YAGP actually brought me to New York City for the first time in my life. I had never really known what was possible with dance until I saw the “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” Gala at 13 years old. I saw Wendy Whelan dance for the first time and that was what made me want to be a ballerina and even more specifically dance with NYCB. I cried in the last seat in the last row of New York City Center, and I knew I would never be the same.

When did you decide to pursue ballet as a profession? And why not another genre of dance?

Growing up I needed a full scholarship to dance. My family didn’t have the money to afford lessons without help, and the only scholarship that I was awarded was a ballet scholarship. Who knows what would have happened if you put me in a jazz or contemporary class! But I will say that I am grateful that the path was clear, and especially for the generosity of the women that paid my way. 

Calvin Royal III
Soloist at American Ballet Theater

What is it like to return to YAGP for the “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” performance?

It’s always exciting to come back and perform at the YAGP Gala. My favorite part of the night is the Grand Défilé. Watching the next generation of dancers come together from all over the world on that one stage for one night. It’s so powerful. This year I’ll be dancing in a new creation by fellow ABT ballerina Meanie Hamrick set to music by The Rolling Stones.

Scout Forsythe
Corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre

When did you decide to pursue ballet as a profession? And why not another genre of dance?

I was 16 and won 1st place in YAGP Paris, Classical and Contemporary. I remember Larissa telling me that I had companies interested in me, and I felt ready to make a decision. My mom and I were standing on a street corner in Paris after the competition, and I told her I wanted to dance for American Ballet Theatre. It was my dream company that I had aspired to dance with. We both teared up and hugged each other. That was the moment I realized this was going to be my profession and my dreams were becoming a reality.

As far as dancing, I’ve never done any other style of dance besides classical ballet, contemporary ballet and character dancing. I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of different styles of dance, but classical ballet was the first style of dancing I fell in love with. Even to this day, I’m overcome with excitement when I see “Swan Lake” or Giselle” on the ABT schedule.

Arianna Crosato Neumann
Youth America Grand Prix Competitor

Arianna Crosato Neumann. Photo courtesy Youth America Grand Prix and Arianna Crosato Neumann.

How did you first get involved with Youth America Grand Prix?

In 2008, my sister, also a dancer, participated in YAGP at 11 years of age, becoming the first Peruvian to reach the finals in New York. I was only 6 years old, and I admired her work and dedication every day to represent her country well, and I dreamed of being a dancer and having the opportunity to participate in the New York finals.

Years passed and several of my classmates participated, and I worked hard to be selected by my school to go to a semi-final. In 2014 we participated for the first time in a semi-final in Atlanta, three companions and me, and we all had the happiness of being admitted to the grand final that year. I was 10 years old. This year is the fifth time that I have participated in YAGP.

Olivia Daugherty
Youth America Grand Prix Competitor

Olivia Daugherty performing the “Paquita” variation. Photo courtesy Youth America Grand Prix and Olivia Daugherty.

How did preparing for the competition fit into your normal training?

There is a lot of attention to detail that goes into preparing for the Youth America Grand Prix competitions and fortunately my training at International Ballet School allows me to study at a pre-professional level, focusing on technique, artistry, musicality and exposure to different genres of dance. The additional hours of training at this level helps me to take the skills I learn in class and apply them to my variations and contemporary work. Additionally, I meet with my coaches, Mark and Sandra Carlson, individually to further work on my variations and pas de deux.

What was it like being around all the other dancers? What is that energy like?

It is always so inspiring to meet and watch other dancers while competing at YAGP.  Seeing the different styles and interpretations of the variations and contemporary pieces is one of my favorite aspects of the competition. The dancers are focused and full of anticipation backstage since we all want to put our best foot forward.

Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

Top Image: Youth America Grand Prix 2019 New York Gala. Photo: Youth America Grand Prix.