YAGP 2017 Gala Reignites My Passion for Ballet

It’s been a whole year since I last blogged. Life has turned upside down with my divorce and migration to New York last year. Just before I moved, I also sustained a serious ankle injury—not from ballet, ironically, despite the fact that I rehearsed frequently for a group dance competition during the most difficult period of my life. The injury happened right after the competition, at home. Perhaps it carried some metaphorical meaning. Perhaps life was deliberately trying to tell me that I needed a real break. A break from everything to nurture my Self, as I was totally burnt out.

One year on, I am still waiting for the injury to heal completely, which is why I still haven’t started taking class yet. Living in New York, with so many dance studios in the city, can you imagine how much my feet itch to step on the studio floor? Luckily, as the Dance Capital of the World, there is no lack of dance performances here all year round. Within a year, I have watched performances by some of the world’s best ballet dancers. I haven’t had a chance to document my impressions here but I will do so in retrospect.

What motivated me to come back and start writing again today is the Youth America Grand Prix gala that I attended last night. It was so amazing that I was excited and up until the middle of the night… and I just have to share my experience with you without any delay!

YAGP Gala 2017 - Balletomanehk.com

Dancers giving Julio Bocca a toast after the performance.

The dance gala celebrated the birthday and the luminous career of former ABT principal dancer Julio Bocca. The evening began with a speech by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Marcelo Gomes, who thanked Bocca for his inspiration to become a dancer and fueled his dream to join the ABT. He danced “My Way” with Luciana Paris, Bocca’s former dance partner at Ballet Argentino after he retired from the ABT.

An Argentinian, Julio Bocca is one of the 20th century’s most renowned dancers. At the age of 18, he won the Gold Medal at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow and was invited to join the ABT by Mikhail Baryshnikov. I believe he set the record of being the first-ever Latin American to join the ranks of principal dancers at ABT, and he inspired many young dancers from his continent in the years that followed. During his long tenure with the American Ballet Theatre, he charmed the audience with his virtuoso technique, onstage magnetism and charisma. I didn’t know much about this dancer, not being initiated into the ballet world until about 10 years ago. But the gala was ingeniously designed so that I had a good introduction to this legend. A big projector screen served as a backdrop of the stage, showing photos and videos of Bocca’s dancing years as well as interviews with him and his former dance partners and colleagues—all the while as Bocca sat among the audience and watched.

YAGP Gala 2017 - Julio Bocca - Balletomanehk.com
At the end of the gala, Julio showed up on stage and celebrated with the dancers. Here on center stage, he makes a humorous gesture in front of the audience. 

From the interview footage, I learned that Bocca partnered with many renowned ballerinas, including Natalia Makarova, Nina Ananiashvili, Alexandra Ferri, Tamara Rojo and the list goes on. His partners all have amazing things to say about him. To the audience’s delight, some of his former partners graced the stage last night, including Nina, Tamara and Luciana Paris.

I also got some insights into how Bocca’s performances were perceived by audiences at the height of his career. A woman I met after the gala told me she’s friends with Bocca and what a nice person he is. She described a performance of “Swan Lake” that she saw of him and Nina. I don’t remember the exact words she used to describe her experience but I got the impression that it was nothing like any other performances of the same ballet that she had ever seen (and I can tell that she had seen a large number of shows over the years).

The dancers invited to this celebration made a stellar cast. It was such a star-studded event that my eyes almost went blind! There were people with telescopes outside the theater pointing up at the sky after the show… but why weren’t they pointing inside the theater?

Besides the three ballerinas mentioned, we also had Marcelo Gomes, Tiler Peck, Maria Riccetto, Yuan Yuan Tan, Isaac Hernandez, Isabelle Guerin, Manuel Legris, Joaquin De Luz, Lucia LaCarra, Marlon Dino, Vitor Luiz, Gonzalo Garcia, Cecilia Figaredo and Hernan Piquin. A couple of dance numbers made references to Bocca’s signature style combining ballet and tango, including “Presente,” a world premiere choreographed by Analia Gonzalez, danced by Luciana Paris and Rodrigo Colomba; and Michelangelo 70, danced by Cecilia Figaredo and Hernan Piquin, who are international tango performers.

There were two other premieres last night. The first was the U.S. premiere of “Spiral Twist” by Russell Maliphant, danced by Lucia LaCarra and Marlon Dino. I was delighted to see this couple, who often appear in international dance galas and YouTube videos. This contemp piece has many intricate lifts, spirals and “floor-dragging” (sorry, for the lack of proper vocab); however, I’m not so fond of the costumes, which remind me of pajamas 😉

Another U.S. premiere was “Farewell Watlz” by Patrick De Bana, set to Chopin’s music and danced by Isabelle Guerin and Manuel Legris, two legends from Paris Opera Ballet. The piece reminded me of “Maguerite and Armand,” but with movements that are more “in our time.” A poetic and beautiful piece that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The highlight of the evening for me came when Tamara Rojo performed Kitri in Don Quixote with Isaac Hernandez, a lead principal dancer with English National Ballet. Tamara performed her superhuman, jaw-dropping balances en pointe and famous fouetté turns that just blew us all away! She also introduced many deviations from the original choreography to showcase her creative licence of a variation she knows all too well. Loud screams and cheers could be heard throughout her performance. I shed tears of joy while watching her entire performance. My heart was pounding fast. Finally I got to watch my idol perform right in front of my eyes. I had to pinch myself.

Tamara Rojo and me - Balletomanehk.com

It was a dream come true when I got to meet and talk to Tamara Rojo after the gala. I told her I cried watching her perform Kitri. She was so amazing that I dropped tears of joy. She joked, “Why cry? It’s supposed to make you a happy.” I was so in awe and gave her compliments for her inspiring leadership in the male-dominated ballet management world.

While Hernandez is only in his early 20s, his amazing confidence and stage presence made him a deserving partner with old-hand Tamara. His extreme big jumps, high speed and charisma elicited screams and cheers from the young students who took part in the YAGP competition. In fact, the extreme level of excitement inside the theater brought on by these youngsters made it a truly unforgettable event!

Isaac Hernandez, principal of English National Ballet - Balletomanehk.com

With Issac Hernandez… He gave a superhuman performance tonight as Basilio in Don Quixote, partnering Tamara Rojo. He just swept everyone away with his extreme big jumps, high speed and charisma.

The other highlight for me was when Yuan Yuan Tan performed the “Black Swan Pas de Deux” with Vitor Luiz. I have watched Tan several times in galas back in Hong Kong, but those were always really really short pieces… I didn’t quite “get enough” of the experience. This time, I was glad to be able to see this virtuoso ppd, in which she showcased her beautiful line, technique and acting talent. It was perfection and pure poetry in every movement!

Tan Yuan Yuan and me - Balletomanehk.com

Tan Yuan Yuan gave two performances at the gala, “Final Pas de Deux from Bells” and “Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake.” I like both but was totally swept away by her Black Swan interpretation! Perfection and pure poetry in every movement!

I was also delighted to see Nina Ananiashvili perform a short piece, “Lekuri,” which is based on Georgian character dance. The last time I watched her dance was her farewell  performance eight years ago at the Met. It’s wonderful she still dances but the short piece left me feeling I wanted more!

You know how some dancers saw a performance in their childhood and got inspired to become a dancer? Well, I can tell you that after seeing the performance last night, especially the numbers by my favorite dancers–Tamara and Yuan Yuan, I felt just like those young aspiring dancers, except that I made a promise to myself: “When I come back in the next life, I want to be a ballerina!” And if I were to die tomorrow, I would die a happy gal, because I have met my favorite dancers all in one day.

Oh wait! But there is are a couple more I still want to meet… so, I can’t die just yet, LOL!

David King of "A Ballet Education" and me - Balletomanehk.com

Very happy to have met up with David King of “A Ballet Education” blog, during the gala. David came to New York to blog about YAGP. I’ve been following David’s blog for several years and have enjoyed both his no-holds-*barre* writing style and his creative illustrations of dancers, which he humbly calls “doodles.” For up-to-date news about YAGP and anything to do with ballet education, head to his blog https://aballeteducation.com

YAGP 2017 at David Koch Theater, Lincoln Center - Balletomanehk.com
The theater was filled with excitement before and during the gala.

David Koch Theater before the YAGP 2017 Gala for Julio Bocca - Balletomanehk.com
The lobby at David Koch Theater was jam-packed before the gala.

Playbill of YAGP Gala 2017 with autographs - Balletomanehk.com

Playbill of YAGP Gala 2017 with autographs. Look at the stellar cast! It was a star-studded event! My eyes almost went blind!!!

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