Seven Reasons Why I Love Judging at YAGP

I always have a great time judging for Youth America Grand Prix. Having just returned from the San Francisco venue, I write this while it’s still fresh in my mind. Here are the reasons:

Michelle Lin, 11, winner of Hope Award, all photos @ VAM Productions

I get to see a lot of young people dance and know that their families support their passion. This is not the case everywhere in the world. We are fortunate.

When we judges fill in the score sheet, I can tell each participant something more personal than just the checklist or the percentage points. Even though we only have about 90 seconds to watch the dancer, check off the attributes and give scores for artistry and technique, there is still room to write a couple sentences saying what we appreciate in their work and where we think they could improve.

I get to hang out with other judges, who are fun, dedicated people in ballet and other forms of dance. This time I worked with dance professionals I’d never met before, like the wonderful Pascal Molat, who was for years my favorite male dancer with San Francisco Ballet; ballroom/Salsa expert Paul Barris; Peter Merz, director of Ballet West Academy; ballet-turned-commercial dancer Brittany O'Connor; and former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Carla Körbes, whom I haven’t seen since her new life with L. A. Dance Project. Colleagues I had shared the judging table with before included Kelly Boal from PNB School; Peter Stark, associate director of Boston Ballet II; former ABT soloist Gennadi Saveliev; and the fabulous Karine Plantadit, former Ailey and Tharp dancer.

I get to hear Russian spoken a lot, which is a language I happen to love. When co-directors Gennadi and Larissa Saveliev and all their helpers speak Russian, it goes too fast for me to really understand but I just love being around the language.

Elizabeth Nip, 12, 2nd place in contemporary, junior division

I can watch classes taught by people I don't usually get a chance to see. Plantadit was a torrent of crazy energy that challenged the dancers every which way. And Molat, a supreme example of the opposing forces that gives dance its texture, was a pleasure to behold. The wide array of classes at any YAGP venue gives participants an experience that is about learning rather than winning.

Jonacy Montero, 14, 1st place, men's classical, junior divison

At the awards ceremony, I love hearing the students cheer each other when the winners of each category are announced. This is not just polite acknowledgement, but loud and long yelling, hooting and whistling. I would say there is often more camaraderie than competitiveness at YAGP.

The ensemble category is always nourishing because the dancers learn what it means to dance together. Sometimes it’s just about patterns in space, other times its about a community, or a folk spirit. In San Francisco, one group was so fierce in its confrontation of tragic violence that I was in tears.

There is still a problem with the “contemporary” category slipping into mere acrobatics  especially when the solos are recycled from regional competitions that give points for contortionist positions. What we value at YAGP is the quality of the dancing. Do they love dancing? Does the artistry come through? Are they expressing their true selves, or just doing the steps? In every city, in every season, the contestants who dance from their soul radiate light and you cannot miss them.

Get more Dance Magazine.

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox