This year’s crop of young winners at the annual YAGP gala were much like the last time I saw them. They’re wildly talented and you’ll soon be seeing them at a theater near you. Portuguese Antonio Casalinho, a tiny dynamo two years ago, is growing quickly and still leading his age group. Paired with Avery Gay in the coda of the pas de deux from Coppélia, he showed that he’s the real deal. Takumi Miyake may be one of the future greats. His deep, soft pliés gave his dancing a fluid texture that not even any of the girls could match. I was reminded of David Hallberg. 15-year-old Chloe Misseldine was clearly a little nerve-wracked dancing the Dryad Queen’s variation from Don Quixote. Even so, she moved with regal elegance that shone through and will make her a lead dancer in the years to come. Jan Spunda, who received a special award for artistry, performed a male version of The Swan that was terrific. Madison Penney, a 12-year-old, took the prize as the jaw-dropping phenomenon in the variation from Esmeralda. Penney justly won the Junior Grand Prix. Luciano Perotto, an 18-year-old from Argentina, danced to the Lacrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem with man-sized power. Closing out the winners, Taro Kurachi from Japan spun like a top in the male variation from Don Quixotte. Honestly, I would like to have seen him replace some of those neverending turns with more movement but he looked pretty good to me. Bruce Marks received a lifetime achievement award to close out the first part and took the opportunity to implore us all to support the arts. He also spoke eloquently about how great dancing is all about the in between steps and the breathing.

Jan Spunda © VAM productions!
Jan Spunda
© VAM productions!

Then the stars came out. All the kids who had been on stage during the opening were seated in the audience and they screamed their pleasure at everything, especially the turns. It’s their night and the dancing was superb so they must be given license. Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro performed Heaven’s Ballet from Carousel. Peck made great use of standing just off pointe, with her toes slightly bent, to lend her character touching innocence. Brittany O’Connor, wearing one pointe shoe and one high heel, tore it up with her ballroom dancing partner, Paul Barris. It was… torrid. I was surprised at the end to discover that they both still had their clothes on. James Whiteside stepped in for Xander Parish in Marcelo Gomes’s Tous les Jours II and showed off his gift for phrasing. Soloist Skylar Brandt has been getting some choice roles at American Ballet Theater and she showed why in Messerer’s pas de deux, Spring Waters. She and Gabe Stone Shayer were full of life and threw themselves at the leaping lifts with glee.

If you have trouble imagining what it would look like to have a contemporary choreographer start Swan Lake from scratch, look no further than David Dawson’s White Swan pas de deux. National Ballet of Canada’s Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie didn’t quite make me forget Petipa’s original but I was persuaded that it could be done. These two dancers were terrific together in a real pas de deux that had both of them dancing instead of the usual male-partner-as-barre routine. Ian Spring made the youngsters in the audience scream with a taut rendition of David Parson’s modern classic, Caught. The strobe effect that allows the performer to seem to be suspended in mid-air had them in awe. Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino from Bavarian State Ballet gave us Arpino’s Light Rain pas de deux. Lacarra, slim to the point of ethereal, is also strong and Dino was a perfect partner. This pas de deux is seductive and she showed off her feet, among the most impressive in ballet, to the delight of the audience.

Takumi Miyake © VAM productions!
Takumi Miyake
© VAM productions!

The show-closer went to English National Ballet’s legendary Tamara Rojo and Cesar Corrales in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. It was the only duet that could be labeled as a bravura showpiece. Rojo, now ENB’s artistic director and one of the leading women in the world dance scene, can still pull off the dazzling turns and she made the kids scream with frequent triples in her fouettés. But it was Corrales who brought down the house. He is a show-off in the best sense of the word. He makes it fun, even as he’s laying a heavy schmear of mustard on the hot dog. He really knows how to tear across the stage with some of the biggest leaps I’ve seen and then land on his knees with faux-humble grace. His multiple pirouettes (clearly a trigger for this crowd of young dancers) made this the loudest audience you will ever see at a ballet show.

Pyrotechnics aside, I enjoyed the Stars of Today portion of the gala for the thoughtful selection of dances that showed off artistry over tricks. Tiler Peck is one of the world’s great dancers right now and Carousel was a great choice for her. Lacarra and Lunkina are both prima ballerinas of the highest order. McKie is brilliant, Corrales is awesomely powerful, Skylar Brandt surges with vitality. Tamara Rojo is changing the dance world with her leadership at ENB. Give Larissa Savaliev full credit for all the work she’s put into this over the years. YAGP is and will continue to be the number one dance competition in the world.