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Tag Archives: YAGP

By Michele Angermiller
The Times of Trenton
February 06, 2014

Max Azaro, 14, practices at the Princeton Dance and Theater (photo by Martin Griff) 2014[West Windsor, New Jersey, USA] – When he was just a little boy, Max Azaro’s mother noticed that he had rhythm.

“My mom told me I used to watch Broadway show “Cats” on DVD and do the dances, and she thought I should take a dance class,” he said. “I don’t think I realized how much I danced around the house.”

Until he was 10, Max took gymnastics classes, which gave him strength and coordination that helped with dance classes. However, boys don’t usually go for dance, and she wanted to make sure Max would enjoy it.

Princeton Dance and Theater Studio was offering a free trial class, so Max agreed to give it a try. He loved it, he said. “When I left studio, I decided I wanted to do it forever,” he said.

Read the entire story:

© 2013 New Jersey On-Line LLC

Related Article: Student Spotlight: Max Azaro

By Matthew J. Palm,
The Orlando Sentinel
January 8, 2014

Orlando Ballet School student Austen Acevedo (Orlando Sentinel archive )[Orlando, Florida, USA] – Despite a tumultuous year for the Orlando Ballet School, several students were honored at the Youth American Grand Prix semifinal competition this month in Tampa. Among the top finishers were Austen Acevedo, who won the Junior Grand Prix, the highest award in his age group; and Blake Kessler, who took first place for both classical and contemporary dance in the senior men category.

The dancers will advance to the finals in New York in April.

The Youth America Grand Prix, founded in 1999, is the world’s largest international ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers from age 9 to 19. In 2012, Kessler won the national Junior Grand Prix award.

In addition to the students’ honors, Outstanding Teacher awards were given to school director Deirdre Miles Burger and longtime instructor Olivier Muñoz. “I am very proud of the school’s achievement particularly in light of the adversity we have faced this year,” Burger said. “All of our students performed very well and were well prepared. I am extremely thankful for the hard work of the senior faculty that helped prepare the students.”

Orlando Ballet School’s main location was forced to close in August after mold was discovered in the building, a former power plant owned by Orange Utility Commission. Some classes were cancelled; others were rescheduled or moved to other locations. The ballet has since rented warehouse space near Loch Haven Park and in mid-December converted the facility into a new school.

Other top student winners in Tampa included:

• Nicole Davis: First place, senior women, classical

• Itzel Hernandez: First place, senior women, contemporary, and third place, senior women, classical

• Lauren Harding and Connor Ladley-Fredeen: First place and third place in pas de deux for contemporary and classical, respectively

• Ryland Acree III: Third place, senior men, classical.

In addition, “Red Light,” choreographed by Orlando Ballet artistic director Robert Hill, was awarded second place in the ensembles category.

Copyright 2014 Orlando Sentinel

Aran  Bell began his training at age  four in Bremerton, WA. with Michiko Black, continued training at Central  Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and in 2009 began studying with Denys Ganio in Rome,  Italy.  He has also attended the Royal Ballet School, and American Ballet  Theatre summer programs.  Aran was the winner of the Hope Award at the  Youth America Grand Prix Finals in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, he was also the  Grand Prix winner of the Milan International Ballet Competition. Most recently,  he was awarded the Junior Grand Prix at the 2011 YAGP Finals, and the gold  medal at the Rieti (Italy) International ballet competition. Aran has performed  in numerous galas in Italy, France, Germany, England, Austria, Poland, Romania,  and several U.S. cities.

Biography from Indianapolis City Ballet

Related Article: Aran Bell, the boy wonder of the Carreño Dance Festival

Boys and Ballet YouTube Channel

By Sydney Maynard
Roseville Press Tribune
May 19, 2012

The Youth America Grand Prix is the largest student ballet competition in the world and this year a Roseville resident danced his way to the top. Luke Westerman, 11, competed with more than 5,000 dancers in the semi-final round, made it to the top 300 for the finals and came home with the gold.

Westerman has been dancing for four years and is a student of the Northern California Dance Conservatory in Roseville. This was his first competition and he took the highest prize in the men’s pre-competitive age division, which featured dancers from 9 to 11 years old.

During his one-week stay in New York City, Westerman prepared for the competition that was held on April 26 at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center.

His mother and father traveled with him and during downtime the family visited the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1. How did you get interested in ballet?
My dad worked at Macy’s and one of the associates that worked there told him about the Sacramento ballet.  He took me to audition to see if I could get into the Nutcracker and I got in as a cook. That was five years ago. (Since then I’ve been) a baby bunny, a party boy (and) last year I was Fritz. I saw the other company members doing amazing tricks (and) I wanted to try out a ballet class, so I did and I liked it.

2. How did you hear about the Youth America Grand Prix?
My teacher (Theodore Constant) took me to some private lessons to test me on some tricks and how many pirouettes I could do (to decide) if he was going to train me for the competition.

3. Are you proud of yourself for going so far?
Yes. I worked really hard for it and I’m happy with the results. I didn’t think I would get first place.

4. What are your plans now?
I hope I can compete next year with (Youth America Grand Prix) but this year I’m going to relocate to Houston so I can train there (with) Houston Ballet.

5. Are you going to continue with ballet as a career?
Definitely. That is definitely (going to) be my career.

Copyright © 2012, Gold Country Media

West Orlando News
April 30, 2012

Related Article : First Position film reflects Orlando Ballet School students’ lives

The Orlando Ballet School, considered one of the greatest training academies in the world, had an extremely successful week at the Youth America Grand Prix International Student Ballet and Contemporary Dance competition in New York City, April 22-28. Orlando Ballet school student Blake Kessler was awarded first place in the Junior Grand Prix, the top award for all men and women age 12 to 14. Kessler and Briana Berrios won second place for Pas De Deux. The Children’s Trio from Vampire’s Ball placed in the Top 12 Ensembles.

“With young dancers from around the world all competing for the top prizes, the talent at this years Youth America Grand Prix was particularly high,” said school director Dierdrie Miles Burger. “I’m very proud of all of our students for performing as amazingly well as they did.”

The Youth America Grand Prix, founded in 1999, is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers age 9 to 19.

Many of the students that competed from the Orlando Ballet School in this year’s Youth America Grand Prix will also be perfoming in the Orlando Ballet’s Family Series performance of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM on Saturday, May 19 at 11 a.m. Tickets are $22 and $30.

All performances are at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Orlando Ballet box office at 407-426-1739 or online at

Copyright 2012 West Orlando News Online

by Michael Morain
DeMoine Register
May 4, 2012

Ballet Des Moines‘ 11-year-old Drew Minard of Clive recently competed in New York against dancers from more than 55 countries and was recognized as the best in his age division.

Not too shabby.

You may remember his name from the recent story about his successful efforts to found an anti-bullying club at Crossroads Park Elementary School. The move was inspired by the documentary “Bully” and his own encounters with teasing at school

But in the meantime, he won the so-called Hope Award at the annual Youth America Grand Prix, which hands out scholarships to some of the best dancing schools in the country.

“I knew Drew would win something because he is a very talented and natural entertainer but to win the Hope Award is an amazing achievement. We are all just delighted,” BDM artistic director Serkan Usta said in a press release. “Our community should be very proud of how well this young man represented his city.”

Minard has been dancing since he was 3 and, for the past year, has been coached by Usta in the School of Classical Ballet and Dance in West Des Moines.

Last month’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” featured three professional dancers (and Minard as a flying monkey), and the company is now in the process of developing a full professional lineup for an upcoming 26-week season. Under the direction of Usta and his wife, BDM ballet mistress Lori Grooters, the team will consist of dancers recruited from across the country.

Copyright © 2012

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By Laura Bleiberg
The Los Angeles Times
April 29, 2012

On a recent Sunday morning, at an hour when many a teenager is still prone in bed, Adam Bernstein, 15, and Eli Gruska, 13, were lying face down on the floor of a Los Angeles ballet studio. Both boys would soon be heading to New York City for the biggest ballet competition in the country.

They and the others in this all-boys class were awaiting instructions from Marat Daukayev, former principal dancer with Russia’s famed Kirov Ballet (now the ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre).

Daukayev begins his boys’ class with sets of push-ups, not pliés. The boys count to 10 in a different language. Daukayev shouts out before each set: “French!” “Spanish!” “Japanese!” “Russian!” “Tartar!” (Daukayev’s native tongue.) “Armenian!” “Hebrew!”

The boys know them all.

We’re multi-tasking, Daukayev’s wife whispers to a visitor. Multi-tasking is a good way to summarize the existence of any young student who wants to make a career of dancing.

On the list of priorities is the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition founded in 1999 in New York City. There the boys would be joining the country’s best and brightest, ages 9 to 19, to vie for hefty scholarships from Youth America, which has become a game changer in the dance world.

Started by former Bolshoi Ballet dancers Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev — he is a soloist with American Ballet Theatre — Youth America Grand Prix has grown to become the largest and one of the most influential youth ballet competitions in the world, with more than 25,000 participants, and $2 million in scholarships distributed, according to its website. Representatives from leading ballet companies attend the finals in New York City every year, scouting for dancers. The 2012 final round was last week. (Results can be found at

Almost overnight, Youth America Grand Prix created a central ballet marketplace, and just as suddenly it upped the ante even higher on ballet’s infamously demanding training regimen. Competitions, though controversial, do have their supporters. They argue that contests give American students valuable performing experience, which they generally lack in comparison to their European counterparts.

On the other hand, students can have a professional career without competing. But an increasing number of students feel compelled to do so, and it can turn their lives and those of their families upside down.

How much so is demonstrated in a new documentary film,”First Position,”which opens Friday. Director Bess Kargman spent one year chronicling the lives of six exceptional students from diverse backgrounds as they prepared for the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix. Kargman said her goal for the film was “to provide intimate access into the lives of these dancers … who are extremely dedicated to ballet and come together at a competition. The competition is just what brings them together.”

In poignant scenes, some of which are hilarious, others heartbreaking, the film shows how children focus unstintingly on their preparation, pushing themselves toward a perfection that ballet demands. The movie depicts the injuries, the hours in class, the parents — some selfless, some pushy — the costs, the triumphs and the failures.

These same stories are being played out every day across Southern California by thousands of students. Their routines and their dreams are the same as those depicted in “First Position.”

Gruska, a polite blond from Encino, takes lessons six days a week, Wednesday through Monday. He takes three classes on Fridays — the boys-only, pas de deux (duets with girls) and a private lesson. His favorite company is the Royal Ballet of England, and he hopes to be accepted there one day.

“I feel like [even if] I’m nervous in the wings, the second I walk out on stage, I feel like I don’t have to be nervous anymore and I’m at home,” he explained.

Both Gruska and his classmate Bernstein, a freshman at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts who studies every day, are willing competitors. They do it for the stage experience, they said, and because they want to be seen by the ballet scouts. But they say there is a big difference between dancing in a competition and for a performance like the “Nutcracker.”

“In a performance, you get to rely on your whole company and you’re pushing all together to achieve something. But competing it’s just you and usually there’s lots of negative energy at a competition. Not a lot,” Gruska said, suddenly softening his stance. “Actually, Youth America Grand Prix is a pretty good one. Like some competitions are just terrible….”

Bernstein interjected: “People crying in the wings.”

The Daukayevs estimated that it costs each family $6,000 to send a child to New York City for the Young American week. In addition to airfare, hotels and meals are the costs of renting studios for rehearsals, the costumes and specially commissioned solos.

Copyright 2012 Los Angeles Times

Related Article : First Position film reflects Orlando Ballet School students’ lives

By Matthew J. Palm
The Orlando Sentinel
April 18, 2012

As a youngster, I nervously competed in some singing and piano competitions — but nothing more than bragging rights was ever on the line.

For Orlando Ballet School students heading to the Youth America Grand Prix finals, though, there’s a lot more at stake: An award-winning performance could be a huge step toward a successful career.
That pressure — and how the young dancers cope with it — is the subject of “First Position,”a fascinating documentary by Bess Kargman featured this weekend at the Florida Film Festival.

Coincidentally, the Orlando Ballet School contingent will be in New York this weekend for the final round of the 2012 competition.

Each year the students face larger challenges, says Dierdre Miles Burger, director of Orlando Ballet School. “Because the competition is getting more interest, there’s more talent competing — and it’s just gotten harder,” Burger says.

“First Position” follows several promising young dancers as they prepare for the Grand Prix finals in 2010. The Youth America Grand Prix, founded in 1999, is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers age 9-19.

“You have five minutes on stage to prove why you deserve this chance — and not somebody else,” says competition co-founder Larissa Saveliev in the film.

No pressure then.

The students depicted in “First Position” have ways of coping. So do Orlando Ballet School students Blake Kessler and Adrianna Duda

“I can’t really watch anything going on,” says Blake, 14. “I have to go into my own little world.”

Adrianna, 16, likes to watch other competitors… to a point. “If I watch too much, it’s bad,” she says. “If I don’t watch any, it’s bad.”

The two are competition veterans: It will be Adrianna’s third trip to the finals and Blake’s fourth. Although the longer you attend the more scrutiny you endure, the students say. “When you’re younger, they judge you easier,” Blake says.

The judges remember contestants from year to year and watch for signs of progress, Burger says. And the students are very aware at how closely they are being watched.

“The audience isn’t just like normal people,” Blake says with a grimace. “It’s people who can make your career, or not make your career.”

“They’re judging you on every little thing,” Adrianna adds. “It’s not like when you’re performing for the general public; they don’t notice every bit of technique.”

The students spend months and months working on their performances, which are carefully chosen by the school’s instructors. “From the school’s perspective, it’s not just about winning a prize; it’s about student development,” Burger says. “We try to pick solos that show their strengths, but ones that are also going to help them progress.”

The movie ups the drama with one student who suffers a foot injury shortly before the competition. That fear is in the back of the students’ minds, though they say they don’t dwell on it. “I get more worried when I practice that I’m going to get injured than when I’m outside,” Blake says.

“First Position” also shows one competitor’s mother working on a costume for her daughter. That’s something Blake and Adrianna don’t have to worry about. “They have the luxury of being connected to a professional ballet company,” Burger says — so costumes are readily available. And there’s no reason to go overboard with feathers or spangles, Burger says: “Simpler is better.”

Orlando Ballet School’s competitors

• Austen Acevedo, 12

• Briana Berrios, 13

• Blake Kessler, 14

• Sarah Wicorek, 14

• Arcadian Broad, 15

•Adrianna Duda, 16

• Alyssa Fazekas, 18
• Jessica Assef, 18

Copyright © 2012, Orlando Sentinel

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