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By MOLLY GLENTZER 
Houston Chronicle 
January. 31, 2010

 

For the first time in its history, Houston Ballet has a Prix de Lausanne winner. 

Emanuel Amuchastegui, 18, a native of Argentina and a student at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, won the coveted prize Sunday in Switzerland, capping a four-day competition among 70 elite pre-professional dancers ages 15-18 from across the world. Amuchastegui was also chosen “audience favorite” in the final round. 

“We’re just over the moon,” said Shelly Power, the academy’s associate director. 

Three Houston Ballet academy students were invited to the competition this year. Aaron Sharratt placed fifth, while Xiang Liao placed in the top 20. 

The top six competitors receive scholarships to cover their tuition at the ballet academy of their choice for a year. But winning the prize is also a major career door-opener. 

Over four days of competition, judges from participating companies and schools around the world observe the semi-finalists as they receive coaching in two roles — one classical, one contemporary. 

The top 20 then perform the roles on stage before an audience. “When they get to that point, it’s their responsibility to make a transition with it,” Power said. 

The ability to absorb and learn, she explained, is what the judges are watching. “They’re looking for potential, not perfection. It’s about courage, individuality, artistry. Do they have what it takes to build a career?” 

She was thrilled that all three of her students made the final 20. Last year, one of her students placed sixth. “It’s been a great way to get Houston Ballet’s name out internationally,” Power said. 

Amuchastegui’s classical variation was from August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, while his contemporary solo, Caliban, was an excerpt from Cathy Marston’s The Tempest

“He’s got beautiful legs and feet, and he can jump like crazy. He has wonderful ballon (the sense of hanging in the air),” Power said. “The role of James from La Sylphide has all these beats and jumps. He was almost stopping in midair, and going right into the beats.” 

He continued to win over judges and the audience with the mournful Caliban solo, she added, “because he came out and stayed with the emotion of it; and you could see the audience going there with him.” 

Sharratt performed solos from The Sleeping Beauty and Christopher Wheeldon’s Commedia. Liao also danced a Sleeping Beauty variation, along with Marston’s Traces

 

Copyright © 2010 The Houston Chronicle

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