YOUTH AMERICAN GRAND PRIX GALA
April 24, 2019
Every year, the Grand Defilé of the Youth America Grand Prix brings together a cast of over one hundred dancers (the New York City finalists of this popular competition) to dance in symmetrical formations with some solo fireworks in between, marking the true highlight of the evening. Things were no different on the 20th Anniversary Gala of YAGP, where many dance luminaries performed well-known excerpts and a few premieres. The young dancers make us smile; the Stars of Today make us wish to see them in a different context.
Indiana Woodward and Taylor Stanley performed Balanchine’s Tarantella with the right tongue-in-cheek quality and easily tossed off the technical steps and fun rhythms. Excerpts of Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated (with Ekaterina Kondaurova and Konstantin Zverev of the Mariinsky) and Manon (ABT’s Cory Stearns and Hee Seo) made us want to see more; Olga Smirnova (Bolshoi) and Kimin Kim (Mariinsky), made the audience gasp with his breathtakingly suspended big jumps. Catherine Hurlin of ABT and Denys Drozdyuk managed to somewhat sizzle in Paso Doble, and the Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels and Lucia Lacarra of Victor Ullate Ballet gave a slightly cool rendition of Gerald Arpino’s usually hot Light Rain duet, hampered by the final blackout happening before it was over, depriving the audience of its cheeky and unforgettable ending.
Two world premieres were unsuccessful in different ways: Melanie Hamrick’s Porte Rouge, to music by the Rolling Stones, was unsavable, even with a stellar cast that included Herman Cornejo and Daniel Ulbright. An embarrassing stab at capitalizing on Mick Jagger’s star power – with lots of head rolls, backbends, smoke and spotlights – it lay bare the perils of an inexperienced choreographer under pressure. The duet Nothing Left was choreographed by Juliano Nunes, who danced with Derek Dunn. Male duets are no longer edgy in ballet; these two gorgeous dancers needed to say more.
The strangest excerpt of the evening was the sublime Olga Smirnova (Bolshoi) dancing Fokine’s classic Dying Swan solo, but with Calvin Royal III (ABT) dancing around her, shirtless and in white tights, in a more contemporary manner: a friend likened it to someone photo-bombing her performance. With all the work that needs to be done with ballet and race, the pairing of an African-American male dancer and a white female dancer in this iconic work was perplexing because the point was far from clear. They did not seem equals nor did they relate to each other. What was he doing there? There was an imbalance of power: her choreography is iconic, and she paid no attention to him; his material seemed secondary and subservient. Unfortunately, none of this seemed to occur to anyone, and no one was credited for the idea.
Luckily, Zoe Anderson blasted through David Parson’s iconic contemporary solo Caught, bringing the house down with her fierce body, movement, stamina: caught in flight, or gliding across the stage like a ghost, she nailed this brilliant work of power, weightlessness, and illusion. Film clips throughout the evening reminded us that YAGP inspires, gives opportunity, and promotes dance. And although sometimes it seems scrappily put together, it’s all for the greater good.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson