Dance Matters: A Prize to Be Won

December 15, 2011

At 40, the Prix de Lausanne is still launching careers.



With most dance competitions, a pointe shoe ribbon coming undone would mean only one thing: a consolation prize. Not so at the Prix de Lausanne, where New Zealander Hannah O’Neill won the top award in 2009 after one such incident. Known for its caring atmosphere, the Switzerland-based competition, which celebrates its 40th anniversary from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, is all about rewarding potential and turning students into professionals.

Founded by the late Philippe Braunschweig in 1973, the competition now selects up to 75 young dancers from approximately 20 countries every year. The contestants prepare a classical and a contemporary variation selected from a list—this year, the number of classical choices has been doubled to about 10 in each category to allow for more options. The Prix itself lasts a full week, with daily classes and coaching sessions led by renowned teachers. “The well-being of the candidates is primary,” says Amanda Bennett, the new artistic director of the Prix. “They have time to make friends and to experience constructive feedback.”

The jury also observes the dancers in class. Contrary to popular belief about competitions, the jurors look for a range of qualities beyond technical facility; Bennett cites artistry, courage, individuality, musicality, and use of dynamics. The finals, which can be watched live on the Prix’s website anywhere in the world, showcase this vision of ballet. “The most exciting thing for us,” says Bennett, “is recognizing that elusive thing we call quality, the ability to touch the audience.”

For those who have “it,” the Prix offers particularly alluring prizes: one-year scholarships to join top schools and companies around the world. Every year, six to eight award winners are invited to choose among the Prix’s elite partner institutions. Brazilian wonder Irlan Silva started his career at ABT II thanks to Lausanne before moving on to Boston Ballet. Patricia Zhou, a 2011 laureate who trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, chose an apprenticeship with The Royal Ballet.

Those who don’t reach the finals still take part in an audition class and a networking forum designed to help them meet school and company directors. That’s how Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumeier discovered one of his current principals, Edvin Revazov. “Everyone leaves a winner,” says Bennett.

The 2012 Prix will toast to this unique history with a gala performance. With alumni including the likes of Diana Vishneva, Carlos Acosta, and Alina Cojocaru, the family reunion should be a star-studded affair.



Hannah O’Neill at Lausanne in 2009. Photo by Jean-Bernard Sieber, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.