Youth America Grand Prix 20th Anniversary Gala
In the 21st century, mainstream media has little love for ballet. It’s too rigid. Too technical. While hip hop dancers churn out new moves, ballet dancers fixate on the old: Plie. Releve. Pa da bourree. The forms are sacred. There will be no #arabesquechallenge. The closest the ballet community has ever come to putting out a mass meme is that picture celebrating a ballerina’s bruised, bloody feet. More than anything, it was a reminder: ballet is brutal. A few years later, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan reminded us of something else: ballet is emotional. The stereotypes have taken hold. They make it all too easy to forget the crux of it all: ballet is beautiful.
It took me almost 23 years to learn this. When I saw Billy Elliot in the sixth grade, I learned more about the social stigma surrounding ballet than I did about the art itself. The same with Center Stage. In Black Swan the psychological dance was mesmerizing, the physical ones forgettable. It was only three nights ago, at the Youth America Grand Prix Performance at the David H. Koch Theater, that I learned ballet was beautiful, and I was hit with the knowledge all at once.
What makes ballet beautiful? Grace. Power. Precision. To be a ballerina is to exude both great strength and fine delicacy. The ballerinas who performed knew this all too well. They switched back and forth between the two extremes with ease. Their movements were spellbinding, no matter the routine, and they varied; from Lucia Lacarra and Fabrice Calmel’s intense performance of Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain, to Olga Smirnova and Kimin Kim’s classic homage to Swan Lake.
Thankfully, not everyone takes as long a time as I did to recognize the beauty of ballet. YAGP, the global network that put together both the performance and the follow-up gala, offers learning opportunities and scholarships to talented dancers ages 9-19 who have not only seen the beauty of ballet, but are dead set on becoming professional ballerinas. In between dance performances, the YAGP students took turns sharing how much the organization had helped them in their quest to achieve their dreams.
Following the show, ballerinas and guests alike were whisked away to the upper floor of the Koch Theater, where a live auction was held to raise money for future YAGP scholarships. Things got heated, with a bidding war breaking out between Olivier Sarkozy and Andrew Martin Weber, but it was all in good jest -- after the auction, all the guests settled down for a roast chicken dinner and made their way onto the dance floor, where they tried to keep up with a horde of enthusiastic young ballerinas.
In the modern era, it is all too easy to dismiss ballet as niche art, one of those things that simply “isn’t for everyone.” Both YAGP and I are here to dispute that. I dare you to see a ballet and not find something to love -- from the meticulous movements to the dramatic expressions. Ballet is here, and it won’t be fading into obscurity -- in fact, as YAPG expands its global horizons and the internet becomes increasingly connective, more people are discovering the beauty of ballet than ever before. So what if mainstream culture has shuffled the art to the side? The way things are going, the 21st Century is bound to be remembered as no less but the era of the ballerina.