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By Matthew J. Palm
The Orlando Sentinel
April 1, 2015

 

Where in the world is Austen Acevedo?

Austen Acevedo (Michael Cairns)The teenager calls Orlando home but in the past two months he has danced with the world’s best, first at a prestigious competition in Switzerland and then as the first U.S. student invited to a famed Russian ballet festival. In June, Austen will perform at the Gala de Danza in Mexico and he has been asked to return to Russia.

“It’s been … amazing,” said Austen, 15, who has studied at Orlando Ballet School since he was 10.

But Austen has no time to rest on his laurels. In just a few days, he’ll be competing in the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City [April 10-15, 2015], the premier annual student ballet contest in the U.S. To get there, he finished on top in three categories during regional semifinals this spring.

Although Austen already has been accepted as a merit training scholar at an American Ballet Theatre summer program in New York, the Grand Prix could lead to other offers and scholarships. Whatever the result, it will be hard to top the thrill of dancing in the historic Mariinsky Theatre in Russia.

“It had always been a dream of mine,” Austen said.

Founded in St. Petersburg in the mid-18th century, the Mariinsky troupe developed its stellar reputation during the Soviet era, when it was known worldwide as the Kirov Ballet.

“It’s like the greatest ballet company in the world,” Austen said. “Kirov is classic, it’s tradition, it’s history.”

Austen’s international achievements are raising the profile of the Orlando school, said director Dierdre Miles Burger. “It helps with enrollment, it certainly helps recruit talent,” Burger said. “To get that recognition in Russia, at the Mariinsky festival, is monumental. To have Orlando put on the map in that way is amazing for us.”

The invitation to Austen and his dance partner, Kennedy Kallin of Utah, marked the first time American students were asked to perform in the 15-year-old festival. The honor took Burger by surprise. “I really thought they were joking,” she said. “It was unheard of.”

Austen was dancing at a gala in Miami when he caught the eye of Californian instructor Christina Lyon. “His musicality, technique and partnering skills were that of a seasoned professional,” said Lyon, who trained as a teenager at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She set the wheels in motion for the invitation to St. Petersburg.

Russian media picked up the story. One television correspondent said Austen and Kennedy, 14, had the athleticism and artistry to adapt to Russian choreography “on the fly,” noting that training techniques vary greatly in the two countries.

“He’s at the level already that he does have the skills to pick something up very quickly,” Burger said. “Not every 15-year-old can do that.”

The teens rehearsed just two weeks in Russia — with instruction in Russian. “It’s a cliché, but ballet is a universal language,” Austen said. “If you know da and nyet [yes and no], you’re good.”

His mother — former dancer Andrea Flannery of Lake Mary — accompanied Austen to Russia. While he rehearsed, she “went to all the churches and cathedrals,” Austen said. “She had fun.”

Russian critics praised the teens’ interpretation of “Who’s My Shadow?”, a world premiere by choreographer Yuri Smekalov. Austen and Kennedy were “impressively flexible, fluid and dynamic,” wrote one reviewer. “Their hard work in preparation and training were self-evident.”

Hard work was what got Austen into the exclusive Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland in February. Only 70 dancers in the world are considered; just 20 are invited to the finals. “It’s the crème de la crème of student competitions,” Burger said.

Austen, who is home-schooled, lives with his dad, Andres Acevedo of Orlando. The teen will next perform locally at Orlando Ballet School’s “Stars of Tomorrow” program on May 15.

“I’m inspired to come to the studio every day,” Austen said. “You can always work more. All that work I’ve done for the past few years is becoming something big.”

 

See Austen dance

  • What: Orlando Ballet School’s Stars of Tomorrow
  • When: 7:30 p.m. May 15
  • Where: Bob Carr Theater, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
  • Cost: $18
  • Call: 407-426-1739

 

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

 

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