In an industry where everything matters, thousands of dollars are spent monthly, and there is little to no payoff— last night was the first of two nights where all of the handwork and crazy pays off, sort of: The Youth America Grand Prix Junior Final Round. Last night’s dancing was wonderful and inspiring. Every year we in the ballet community are reminded that the next generation of talent is brighter, hungrier, and full of energy.
Setting the stage for the junior final round:
Truthfully, everyone was anxiously waiting around Tampa, checking their phones and refreshing the website waiting in anticipation for YAGP to publish the list of junior finalists. This was after four days of classes, numerous opportunities to be seen, and competing a classical variation and contemporary solo. And then the moment of truth happened. YAGP took the Instagram and published the numbers dotted in green.
However, once the list was published, social media took off. It normally takes off every year with either envy, gossip or just pure excitement— but this year the talk was about the “R” word. Out of the hundreds, and I mean hundreds of finalists, only one American and one Canadian BIPOC were selected. It seemed everyone on social media had something to say, and they aren’t wrong. While ballet has been predominately white, this year the competition has been dominated by Asian and Asian American dancers from every corner of the globe. And while, I myself am Asian, and I am happy to see the recognition and prominence of visibility coming for myself, I am still disheartened how there still isn’t very much color at YAGP.
I am the first person to say, don’t give us something just because the color of our skin, but on the competitive circuit, that isn’t the only factor that determines your success on the competitive ballet circuit. You have to come from the right financial background to afford any— no half of this. Between tutus, private lessons, pointe shoes, travel expenses and more, the costs of attending YAGP finals is pretty high. Students from around the world: Bulgaria, Brazil, Spaind, France, Mexico, Lithuania, Korea, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, and more all had to pay for flights, COVID tests and a hotel for eleven days during one of the most expensive seasons in Florida (spring break). But the problems only start there. Attending a school that has prominence, a Russian coach, or being a social media star also factors into the competition. YAPG finals is where the whose who of ballet coaches congregate, exchange war stories, and reminisce about performances past. Here, former colleagues from around the world congregate and create a dynamic that we are all too familiar with: high school.
From the American candidates in the junior final round, Elite Classical Coaching dominated with four soloists out of the 65 invited to the final round. But there were all the normal power players invited to the final round: Master Ballet Academy. Ellison, Dmitri Kulev, Morningstar, Southalnd, Art of Classical, and City Dance. There were also the new schools who have risen to fame via social media and good training like WestMet and Ospiova, but the competition was dominated by the international students.
Normally, the final round is combined both juniors and seniors, and the the competition is beyond ferocious as very view are invited to perform. Because YAGP was divided into two, more juniors were invited, and it really did show the difference in commitment, respect for the art, and how culturally ballet is accepted.
The youngest competitor was Ava Ramirez (12) from Columbia City Ballet who brought harlequinade and ended this audience favorite with four pirouettes. Most of the girls on stage did a minimum of four pirouettes, but at twelve, she set the tone for the night. While the night continued on with semi-final hope award winners and grand prix winners, the next stand out was Crystal Huang who was in the final round last year as the youngest (she also brought Harlequinade in 2021). While there might be talk that she’s not on the ballet path, her technique is clean, she was born to perform and the girl can do it all. This year she brought the entrance variation from Esmeralda and did what she does best: dance. The leg was up on both sides, the turns were fierce and the jumps were crazy.
Clara Riggs also came to dance last night. From Dmitri Kulev. The girl threw down with Graduation Ball. Again, the legs were high, the eyes were bright, the turns were fantastic, and the girl was just enjoyable to watch.
Girl after girl the body type was very clear, and the Americans did everything they could to combat it. This was the year of skirts, pants and fake arches.
And then came Sophia Koo (Korean American), a spotlight finalist, and from Southland Ballet, came to serve us some Paquita. The leg was up, so up that people cheered. From a school that has long produced winners, social media stars, and SYTCD finalists.
The competition heated up with the boys, and it was clear that the boy candidate didn’t come to bank on P points. Joao Pedro Dos Santos Silva (13) SLAYED La Fille Mal Gardee. Turns for days, jumps for days, flexible, and tall the boy put it out like it was going out of style. Then three in a row Suhyeok Bang (Korea), MinJun Sun (Korea), and Denis Wantanabe (Japan) slayed it out. And finally the night ended with Helsinki candidate from Elite Classical Coaching, Alexei Orohovsky who competed Talisman.
Predictions for Juniors?
If there is a Junior Grand Prix candidate this year I think it will either go to Minjun Suh (Korea) or Joao Pedro Dos Santos Silva. The tops spots for juniors, don’t be surprised to hear the names: Sophia Koo, Crystal Huang, Anya Donaghy, Elizabeth Feng, Clovis Couillard, Denis Wantanabe, Suhyeok Bang, Leonidas Adarmes, and Cesar Ortega Garcia, Gramada Dragos.
Photos by Star Action Shots