United Nations of Ballet

May 5, 2013

Larissa Saveliev is the founder and artistic director of
Youth America Grand Prix
, the largest international student ballet competition. In that role she helps place promising students in excellent schools to continue their training. Here she talks about recent school performances at international gatherings.

April of this year has been an exciting month for ballet schools and students around the world. I’d almost call April 2013 the “World Ballet Summit” because so many special events, milestones, and performances happened in such a short period of time. All this activity shows one thing—how united the international ballet community has become—and to me it is very exciting.

If we had a United Nations of ballet, I’d say that several noteworthy assembly sessions took place this April.

First, there was a very interesting shared bill program in New York City, featuring ABT Studio Company and the graduating students of the Royal Ballet School. It was fascinating to see two of the world’s top ballet schools together on one stage—and that was just the beginning of things to come.


The next “session” of the “United Nations of Ballet” took over New York City for the YAGP Finals. Over a thousand young dancers from 28 countries on 5 continents gathered in New York City. (Click here for information on the gala on April 18.)


Right after that, the “delegations” jetted off to Paris for the 300-year anniversary celebration of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. It’s staggering to think that the Paris Opera Ballet School is actually older than the United States of America! Unfortunately, I was not able to join the festivities—I was still busy following up on nearly 400 scholarship offers made at YAGP. However, sources tell me that it was a mind-blowing, historical celebration. The program included a “Gala of Dance Schools of the 21st Century” on April 20 at the Palais Garnier in Paris, which included a live orchestra. The Royal Danish Ballet School, The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, The Royal Ballet School, The School of American Ballet, Canada’s National Ballet School, John Cranko School, La Scala Ballet Academy and the Ballet School of the Hamburg Ballet have all participated. And, to top things off, the performance ended with a “Grand Défilé” arranged by Elisabeth Platel herself. Nobody does it like the French!


The grand culmination of all of these “assemblies” took place at Canada’s National Ballet School during their “Assemblée Internationale 2013” as part of the School’s 50th-anniversary celebration. This exciting festival brought 18 ballet schools from 11 countries to Toronto for one week filled with activities. It was almost overwhelming—yet every minute was educational and enjoyable. How nice to see so many schools and ballet professionals together under one roof! And there was enough space for all at the beautiful facilities of the National Ballet School. To me, it is a wonder of the world and is worth a separate trip to Toronto just to see it. Most professional ballet companies would envy such a world-class space, let alone ballet schools! I think even professional sports teams would be jealous.


From left: Jason Beechey (Palucca School in Dresden), Lawrence Rhodes (The Juilliard School), Susan Jaffe (University of North Carolina School of the Arts), Deborah Hess (Canada’s National Ballet School), and Larissa Saveliev (YAGP)
at the Assemblée Internationale 2013.


Each day, the students had the opportunity to take master classes from the artistic directors of other schools before rehearsing for the evening’s performances.


In just two showcase performances, I saw the traditionally classy French—Paris Opéra Ballet School—in choreography by Patrice Bart; the innovative Dutchmen—Het National Ballet Junior Company—in choreography by Ted Brandsen; and the German known for their quality—Hamburg Ballet School in a beautiful Neumeier piece and the John Cranko School in a contemporary piece by Rolando D’Alesio called Come Neve al Sole. The smooth Australians presented a silky-smooth piece by Leigh Rowles, and the gracious host for the occasion, Canada’s National Ballet School, presented a beautiful performance of Giselle and a work by Erik Bruhn.


John Cranko School students in Rolando D’Alesio’s
Come Neve al Sole.


The performances also featured The Juilliard School, Cuban National Ballet School, Palucca Schule from Dresden, Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, and the New Zealand School of Dance as well as many other works by well-known choreographers like Nacho Duato and Sir Frederick Ashton. It is always hard to pick favorites, but for me the two highlights were the “well-oiled” Texans—Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy—in Stanton Welch’s Fingerprints, First Movements and the creative Californians—the San Francisco Ballet School—in a fantastic piece called Stone and Steel choreographed by a YAGP Alum, Myles Thatcher. I also cannot go without mentioning the Royal Ballet School’s David Donnelly. Maybe I am biased because he is a YAGP Alum, too—but David is definitely someone to keep your eye on. He has all of the ingredients to become a world-class dance artist, and it seems that he has found just the right kitchen!


Royal Ballet School students Yaoqian Shang and David Donnelly in Frederick Ashton’s Pas de Deux from Rhapsody at the Assemblée Internationale 2013.


All in all, it was a thrilling experience, and I often found myself feeling like a proud mom when seeing how many YAGP alumni are thriving in the world’s great ballet schools. It could not have been more perfect (except I’d like to have a larger venue for these performances—so that even more people could see the extraordinary dancers from these extraordinary schools.) My only wish would have been that Gailene Stock, the director of the Royal Ballet School who has been ill, could have been there with us.


I think I speak on behalf of all of my colleagues around the world when I say thank you to Canada’s National Ballet School for hosting this incredible international dance exchange. We need more of these “general assemblies” of the “United Nations of Ballet.” Who wants to host the next one?


P.S. Now I am off to The 2013 Gala Benefit: Rock Through the Ages, Celebrating the Rock School’s 50th Anniversary!


All photos courtesy Larissa Saveliev