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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.

Act I presented a sampling of the areas of the competition not featured in the Final Round, including a pas de deux and several contemporary pieces along with some of the variations from the previous evening and an impressive Talisman variation by Brady Farrar in the Pre-Competitive age division. Brady was subsequently given the Hope Award, the highest honor in his division. Madison Penney, the little firecracker from Arizona, dazzled once again with her rendition of the variation from "Esmeralda". Act I ended, as always, with the Grand Défilé when 300 young people ages nine and up performed an amazingly polished piece that they had rehearsed for only three days. As a self-confessed dance addict, I'll admit that I wait for this every year and I'm never disappointed!

Of the professionals, Tamara Rojo and Cesar Corrales in the pas de deux from "Le Corsaire" were superb. Yes, this is a war horse and a Gala staple. Even so, the execution and stage presence that these two brought to it made it fresh for me again. She is a former Principal of the Royal Ballet of England and now the Artistic Director and Lead Principal Dancer of the English National Ballet. He is a member of that company and a former YAGP award winner. Another highlight was Ian Spring in David Parsons' "Caught", with its magical lighting catching him aloft at various moments.

Julio Bocca: Tribute to a Dance Legend

Finally, the Friday tribute to Julio Bocca was both moving and a joy to watch. Videos of him speaking were charming, and videos of people from his illustrious career wishing him a happy birthday were heartwarming. The program, which had two U.S. premieres and a World Premiere, was performed by a roll call of today's finest dancers. My favorite once again was Tamara Rojo. She tossed off seemingly effortless fouettés with multiple turns for good measure in the pas de deux from "Don Quixote". Her partner, Isaac Hernandez, is a former YAGP award winner. This pas de deux is another a war horse, but for good reason. Done well, as it was here, it's a balletomane's dream come true.

The program ended with a "Piece D'Occasion" staged by ABT's Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie that brought back all the performers in turn. When Julio Bocca himself appeared, the audience erupted in well-deserved cheers and applause.

Kudos to Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev, the mastermind founders of YAGP, for pulling off an amazing three-day feast of over-the-top dancing. I'm already looking forward to next year!

For a full list of 2017 YAGP winners, visit

Photo credit: VAM Productions

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