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Youth America Grand Prix

YAGP

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa

The world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition, Youth America Grand Prix, just celebrated its 14th season. Launched in 1999 by Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev, two former Bolshoi Ballet dancers, YAGP awards over $250,000 annually in scholarships for young dancers ages 9-19 to attend leading dance schools worldwide.

As Larissa explains, “Everything we do is about education. We want to help young dancers with their future dance training.” The organization seeks to assist dancers in furthering their education and receiving opportunities that will put them in good stead for a successful career. Many competitions now award scholarships, but YAGP was the forerunner with a unique focus on scholarships from the very beginning.

“When we started it was revolutionary to give scholarships. We were the very first competition that started a scholarship system where the schools choose the scholarship recipients. And it’s not only the winners who get scholarships, you can compete and you don’t have to be the winner to get a scholarship. That is very different to other competitions,” says Larissa. “YAGP really is a big audition, where we have a lot of dancers present and a lot of schools present - we play matchmaker between the school and the child.”

And not only does YAGP award scholarships to talented dancers, but with its Job Fair, which ran again this year, dancers can be chosen for contracts with world renowned companies. The Job Fair is open to YAGP NYC Soloist Finalists seeking professional employment, as well as previous NYC Soloist Finalists looking for new opportunities. The Job Fair is a special audition for young dancers to be seen in one place by many artistic directors from companies from around the world.

“We are more than a competition. The competition is only one slice of the big pie of what we do. Our organization helps dancers in many different ways,” shares Larissa.

This year’s YAGP was once again a huge success. “The finals in New York went very well. We had over 1,000 students participating and around 300 Soloists. We saw close to 5,000 students this year. It was definitely very, very competitive. We gave out a lot of scholarships,” Larissa recaps.

YAGP has also become known for its prestigious galas held at Lincoln Center as part of the finals each spring. The annually sold-out Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala traditionally features winners of the student ballet competition and stars of the world’s leading dance companies. The student performers vary in age, to show the progression of a student from youngest to oldest and to give as many students as possible a chance to perform alongside their dance idols.

“Our goal is to present the kids with professional ballet stars and expose them to some great choreographers, putting them on the same stage,” explains Larissa. “They wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be in the same performance with these stars.”

Another thing that bonds these professional dancers with the young competitors is the traditional Capezio jacket – which has become a symbol of the relationship between Capezio and YAGP.

“Every dancer that comes to the YAGP Finals or Gala is given a Capezio jacket – and I keep seeing them everywhere. Just a few weeks ago I saw a news story about a choreographer doing a ballet at the Bolshoi and he was wearing the Capezio jacket from YAGP. A couple of years ago I saw a performance at Lincoln Center where the dancers were warming up on stage before the show with an open curtain, and a lot of them were wearing the Capezio jackets, too. I heard an audience member wonder if the dancers had a uniform! It was a funny moment, but I think it represents how Capezio is a major part of YAGP.”

"Capezio is one of our oldest sponsors. They have supported us almost from the very beginning. We are glad that they believe in us as much as they do.”

After 15 successful seasons, with plans already underway for next year’s events, Larissa reflects on when it all began. After dancing for the Bolshoi, she moved to the US and began teaching. “Both of my parents were professors in universities, so I guess I have teaching in my genes. I wanted to develop as a teacher and I was looking for an avenue to meet other ballet teachers, look at other students and have an outlet where I could bring my students. I realized that there were not many opportunities for ballet students. There were a lot of competitions for jazz students, but not for students of ballet, so I decided to open one.”

Candidly she adds, “I had no idea how hard it would be. I swear if I knew how much work it was I would have never started!”

Even though running such a large, prestigious worldwide competition must be a bit of a headache sometimes, the rewards are great and it is truly a labor of love for Larissa and Gennadi.

“My favorite thing about YAGP is when I see our alumni on the stages of the major companies,” Larissa says. “When I see the alumni performing with these great companies and I know I did a little bit to help them get there, that is the best moment. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh my, this is so hard and so much work! Why am I doing this?’ Then I see them on stage and I think, ‘That is why!’”

For more information about YAGP, visit www.yagp.org.