Philadelphia dance students yearning for an opportunity to show their talents were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so this weekend during the Youth America Grand Prix where hundreds, 251 to be exact, participated in the auditions held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Klein Life, 10100 Jamison Avenue in Philadelphia.
The auditions are highly anticipated in the dance world by both dancers and the dance schools seeking promising young students.
“What’s happening in Philadelphia is a regional semi-final which is part of the Youth America Grand Prix’s United States tour which encompasses 25 locations throughout the United States,” said Sergey Gordeev, founding director of communications and external affairs for Youth America Grand Prix International Student Competition.
Oh, this is big stuff. Not only does Youth America host these auditions in Philly but they do so throughout the country and, in fact the world.
“The United States tour is part of the larger tour which happens throughout the year which happens in 10 international locations as well, Europe, Asia, South America and Canada,” he said.
A great deal of effort, planning and resources are expended to host these global auditions, but Gordeev says the competition is essential to the dance world.
“Basically, all of these auditions serve one purpose, which is the reason why Youth America Grand Prix was created, and that is to identify promising young dance talent, connect it with opportunities at the world’s leading dance academies around the world.”
The Youth America Grand Prix is a ballet competition specifically focused on classical ballet founded by a former Russian ballerina, Larissa Savliev who emigrated to the United States 1994 where she began teaching ballet. As a teacher, she began searching for opportunities for her students but found none.
Savliev created the Youth America Grand Prix to help create those opportunities and the results were incredible.
Over 100,000 students have participated in Youth America’s workshops, auditions and master classes since it was founded and over 450 alumni have joined more than 80 dance companies around the world.
“Before the internet connected people in real time, the way dance talent was discovered were at these summits, at these auditions, at these dance competitions,” said Gordeev.
In those days, dancers ready to start their professional careers would attend these events “every year, every two years, every three years” and perform in these places where the dance world would gather.
“The dance world would gather in these places and then stars would be born, talents would be recognized, and the new up-and-coming brightest new talents were discovered,” Gordeev said.
In Europe, there was a competition for pre-professional dance students, but not so in America, at least until Savliev started one.
“The idea that she had was very simple but very powerful. The competition was to identify talent before it became professional so it’s for dancers from 9 – 19 years of age.”
This year the challenge extended its age limit to include 20-year old’s who may have missed out on the chance to participate in the auditions last year due to the Covid-19 Pandemic which temporarily brought the activities to a halt.
“The idea was to travel around the world, first it was to travel around the United States and then it expanded to the world and the idea was to hold these auditions in regions, in different cities and different locations and to identify the most talented dancers in each location and then they would be invited to attend the finals.”
In the past, the finals were held in New York but because of the pandemic, they will take place in Tampa, Florida in May.
These finals are significant.
“We travel around the world and we audition up to 12 - 15,000 kids, literally all over the planet and the best and most promising are invited to the finals and then the finals are attended by, literally every major dance institution on the planet earth,” Gordeev explained.
“The worlds’ most talented dance kids are seen by the representatives of the worlds best dance schools and they are awarded scholarships to these schools.”
Over the last 20 years, this effort has facilitated some $4,000,000 in scholarships to leading dance schools around the world.
“What Youth America Grand Prix does is basically solve the problem that existed before the competition was created which is that, if a dance student wanted to be seen by a school and be considered for a scholarship and find a place to study to develop his or her talent, the student had to travel to whichever school the dance student wanted to attend,” said Gordeev.
Many of those without the means and resources would be unable to do this. Afterall, you couldn’t visit all the dance schools you might be interested in visiting.
Youth America also helps to resolve a problem for dance schools who need talented students as well.
“The schools are also interested in having talented students in their schools and some schools have audition tours where they would visit 3,4,5 10 cities perhaps but they can’t cover the entire globe. So, the schools were looking for talented students and the students were looking for promising schools, but nothing was connecting them. The Youth America Grand Prix became this connection.”
The founder of Youth America Grand Prix was understandably busy during the auditions, but we did get a chance to break Ms Savliev away from her duties to get this statement:
"It makes my heart so happy to see these dancers on stage once again, knowing how hard they've been working throughout the months of lockdown. We always love coming to Philadelphia as it’s one of the first cities we started coming to when we started YAGP more than 20 years ago," said Savliev.
The feeling is mutual.