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Youth America Grand Prix Gala 2018: "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow", at the Koch Theater
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Youth America Grand Prix Gala 2018: "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow", at the Koch Theater

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Youth America Grand Prix Gala 2018
Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow

At the
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center

Larissa Saveliev: Artistic Director and Founder
Gennadi Saveliev: President and Founder
Blair Hartley: Executive Director
Hosted by Hoda Kotb

Featuring Renowned Guest Artists
Winners of YAGP International Student Ballet
Scholarship Competition for Students
Press: Jonathan Marder and Company, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 19, 2018

See a 2018 YAGP NYC Finals Winners List Here.

See a Detailed List of YAGP NYC Gala Performers and Dances Here.

This thrilling annual event brings out many of the top winners of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), as well as dance performance virtuosos, often called Prima Ballerinas and Premier Danseurs. Hoda Kotb welcomed the guests and re-appeared now and then. In Part I, “Stars of Tomorrow”, the winners of last night’s Final Rounds were astounding. The audience, including many young dancers from around the globe, who participated in the 2018 YAGP competition, was, as always, fervently vocal and energized…to say the least. Whoops, screams, whistling, and loud applause made this event especially thrilling, for all who watched and all who danced. Something familiar, an educational film, then a young music artist performed a solo to begin the evening’s celebration. Rosalia Malik beautifully performed, with poise beyond her years, the Chopin Etude No. 8, Op. 10. And, something different, the Alexei Moskalenko/Carlos Dos Santos/Mikhail Tchoupakov Grand Defilé, was tonight’s grand finale, rather than the finale of “Stars of Tomorrow”, and the absence of an intermission cut quite some time off the entire Gala evening.

The “Stars of Tomorrow” YAGP winning dancers are introduced seamlessly, one after the other, and the lights remain off. One does one’s best to take great notes, but I will synopsize this portion of the program. Photos of several performing dancers, noted here, follow below, and a complete list of 2018 Winners is linked above. Additionally, a complete Gala performance list is also linked above. There was no Grand Prix this year, and 1st Place prizes went to 15 year-old Elisabeth Beyer, USA, and to 15 year-old Yuma Matsuura, Japan. Winning students may have performed several different dances throughout the competition, and the following dances, illustrated in the photos, may be different from those they chose for this Gala.

Those virtuosic rising stars included Antonio Casalinho, Portugal, seen below dancing the Variation from "Le Corsaire", Rebecca Alexandria Hadibroto, Indonesia, seen below dancing the "Fairy Doll Variation", Enrique Emmanuel Bejarano Vidal, Mexico, seen below dancing the Variation from "Diana & Acteon", and the 1st Place Winner, Women’s Division, Elizabeth Beyer, USA, seen below, vibrantly and vivaciously dancing the Variation from "La Esmeralda". In all, I counted about eleven or twelve featured winning dance performances. The classical ballet excerpts, spotlighted so magnificently here, gave the audience assurance that the future of the ballet community, both for artists and aficionados, is securely sealed. There was also an intoxicating, solo Brazilian Samba, as well as an ensemble showcase of rustic folkloric dance.

One major, to put it mildly, disappointment was a last minute cancellation of the Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi, because of “immigration issues”. There is no prima ballerina onstage these days that commands the audience’s energized adulation like Olga Smirnova. I have seen her perform on multiple occasions, and each event was beyond extraordinary. Hopefully she will have a turn on the New York stages soon, while she is still in ballet prime. As one replacement for Ms. Smirnova and Mr. Tissi, we saw Whitney Jensen and Garrett Smith, of the Norwegian National Ballet, in an excerpt from Mr. Smith’s “Imitations”, to music by Michael Gordon. It was athletic and contemporary, with Mr. Smith in a deep blue (matching Ms. Jensen) quasi-tutu. Another replacement, Tiler Peck, a Principal with City Ballet, who consistently receives rave reviews on these pages, danced one of my favorite Balanchine solos, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” from “Who Cares?” She spun like a top, glowing in the moment, and the crowd cheered her back for an extended bow.

Another serendipitous highlight of the Gala was Natalia Bashkatova’s “Desert Rose”, in which Liubov Kazantseva, a dancer-gymnast, enters the stage in a nude leotard, while Sarah Charness, on a stunning electric violin, and Caleb Spaulding, on Djembe, play music by Sting. Flaming red silky material drops from the rafters, and Ms. Kazantseva immediately scales the material, winding her limbs, so that the silks, or spandex, wind about her, protecting her from loss of balance. It was enormously silent and tense (unthinkable at a YAGP Gala), as the audience gasped. The performer hung upside down, sideways, in scissors kicks, and so on, until she descended to thundering ovations.

Another City Ballet Principal, Daniel Ulbricht, also a consistent recipient of rave reviews on these pages, choreographed “Tres Hombres”, scored to Astor Piazzolla’s magnetizing tangos. Joining Mr. Ulbricht were Denys Drozdyuk, a World Ballroom Champion, and Lex Ishimoto, a winner of “So You Think You Can Dance”. The tango musicians onstage were Jorge Viladoms, on piano, Javier Sanchez, on bandoneón, and Caleb Spaulding on percussion. I absolutely adored this work, with tango milonguero styling, tightly practiced synchronization of posture and steps, and wildly ebullient solos. Later in the show, a revered (on these pages and elsewhere) Principal from American Ballet Theatre, Daniil Simkin, danced the solo, Les Bourgeois, choreographed by Ben Van Cauwenbergh, with a Jacques Brel recording of this whimsical tune. Mr. Simkin, in his prime, literally flew across the stage, wearing spectacles, white shirt, loose tie, and black pants. He is a highly theatrical actor in story ballets, and he clearly told this Parisian character’s story to everyone’s delight.

One more familiar and favored New York Principal dancer, also from American Ballet Theatre, Isabella Boylston, joined Kimin Kim of the Mariinsky Ballet for Petipa’s Grand Pas de Deux from “Don Quixote”. Ms. Boylston has spunk and speed, and Mr. Kim has elegance and presence, and together, though not a perfect match, they maximized the moment with dizzying fouettés (she) and galloping leaps (he). This pas de deux is a staple in local and international galas, and these dancers gave us a show. They were radiant and relished the opportunity. Another pas de deux, “On the Nature of Daylight”, choreographed by David Dawson, with music by Max Richter, brought to the stage Sasha Mukhamedov of Dutch National Ballet and Constantine Allen of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. This was a ballet of love and intimacy, and perhaps intrinsic conflict and trepidation. I would like to experience this ballet again.

And, one more pas de deux, the Final Pas de Deux from “Bells”, choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, music by Rachmaninoff, was danced by Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez of the Joffrey Ballet, with Vassily Primakov on piano. This was brief but virtuosic, and I would like to see the full choreography. One more student musical solo, Excerpts from Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24”, performed by clarinetist, Weixion Wang, was an eloquent interlude, while the stage was set for the Grand Defilé, scored to Tchaikovsky. Many or all of the finalists of the 2018 YAGP competition appear in small and large ensemble dance, coming together at the music’s final note into a big frieze finish. The parents, siblings, and friends of the dancers, plus the New York dance community in the audience always give them a standing ovation. Kudos to Youth America Grand Prix for another fabulous Gala. Now, we can all look forward to following the Stars of Tomorrow, and see in which national and global dance companies they commence their ballet careers. Also, kudos to all the Stars of Today and of Tomorrow.

As a footnote, I would like to commend the film animation artist, who created media introductions for each of the established dance artists. These film clips were fantastic.

Hoda Kotb, YAGP Gala Host, NBC News
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Antonio Casalinho, Portugal
in Variation from "Le Corsaire"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Rebecca Alexandria Hadibroto, Indonesia
in "Fairy Doll Variation"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Enrique Emmanuel Bejarano Vidal, Mexico
in Variation from "Diana & Acteon"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Elizabeth Beyer, USA
in Variation from "La Esmeralda"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Liubov Kazantseva, Principal Guest Artist
in Natalia Bashkatova's "Desert Rose"
Sarah Charness, Electric Violin, Caleb Spaulding, Djembe
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Tres Hombres World Premiere, by Daniel Ulbricht
Daniel Ulbricht (NYC Ballet), Lex Ishimoto (Winner, So You Think You Can Dance),
Denys Drozdyuk (World Ballroom Champion)
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Daniil Simkin (American Ballet Theatre)
in Ben Van Cauwenbergh's "Les Bourgeois"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Isabella Boylston (American Ballet Theatre)
and Kimin Kim (Mariinsky Ballet)
in Pas de Deux from Petipa's "Don Quixote"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Tiler Peck (NYC Ballet)
in "Fascinatin' Rhythm", Solo from Balanchine's "Who Cares?"
Courtesy of VAM Productions

Select Finalists of the YAGP 2018 Competition
in "Grand Defilé" by
Alexei Moskalenko, Carlos Dos Santos, and Mikhail Tchoupakov
Courtesy of VAM Productions

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at