BWW Review: YOUTH AMERICA GRAND PRIX 2017 Delivers a Three-Evening Feast of Over-the-Top Dancing
Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), the international competition that gives accomplished young dancers the chance to vie for coveted scholarships and company contracts, held the 2017 Final Rounds at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center on Wednesday, April 12th. On Thursday, April 13th, the annual "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" showcased some of this year's winners in Act I and offered stellar performances in Act II by an impressive roster of professionals. Then on Friday, April 14th, a tribute to Julio Bocca marked the occasion of his 50th birthday as part of YAGP's "Legends in Dance" series. I was in the audience all three evenings of this veritable marathon of dancing, and I'll give you my impressions of each event in turn:
2017 Final Rounds
The atmosphere in the theater was electric with excitement as scores of bunheads, parents, teachers, and coaches joined NYC dancegoers for what is always an eagerly anticipated opportunity to see the top contenders out of the thousands of hopefuls who participated in YAGP semi-finals around the world. Seated front and center were the judges, a distinguished panel of dance luminaries poised to decide which of the entrants would be the winners. Adding to the suspense, there was no printed list of the participants. Instead, the name, age, and country of each participant were announced just before the dancer took the stage.
The Junior Women, ages 12 to 14, were first. Predictably, a fair number of the ladies had chosen the razzle-dazzle "Esmeralda" variation from the list of approved solos. However, none of the dancers came close to matching the technique and beyond-her-years artistry of Madison Penney, age 12, trained at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was not at all surprised to learn on Friday, when the winners were posted, that she was awarded the top honor for her age division, the Junior Grand Prix.
Of the Junior Men, I was enchanted by 12-year-old Hideyuki Moriwaki's commanding performance of the "Don Quixote" pas de deux male variation. He hails from the Koike Ballet Studio in Japan. Although he didn't place among the winners, I'm betting there's a first-rate career in his future.
The Senior Women, ages 15 to 19, were excellent but less impressive than the younger dancers we had just seen. The same was true of the Senior Men, some of whom couldn't seem to land a double tour without fumbling or land to the knee without putting a steadying hand on the ground. This opinion on my part was borne out by the fact that the judges ultimately decided that the Grand Prix for the Senior age division, the competition's highest honor, should not be awarded for 2017. Even so, we are talking here about superb dancing that bears out YAGP's motto: "Ensuring the Future of Dance"
The Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow
A memorable moment in the proceedings was when the inimitable Bruce Marks at the age of 80 received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Accepting the award, clearly as sharp and sagacious as ever, he quipped that we have three ages: youth, middle age, and "You look wonderful!". He asked that no one tell him he looks wonderful. But in fact he does. Dancers do indeed age well. Applause, applause for his varied and glorious career.