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ART BEAT: Local ballerina advances in national competition

Abigrace Diprima, 14, began a journey in dance last summer that will lead her to New York City this March.

Abigrace, who dances with Gwinnett Ballet Theatre, will be competing in the Youth America Grand Prix's final competition, having made it through the Columbia, S.C., semifinals of this prestigious event just two weeks ago.

The journey began last year when GBT's summer intensive guest teacher Norbert Nirewicz was impressed with Abigrace's work ethic and natural ability. He suggested she choose a competition to enter, and he wanted to choreograph a contemporary piece for her to perform. GBT Artistic Director Lisa Sheppard Robson supported the idea of Youth America Grand Prix and its Jan. 16 semi-finals in Columbia.

Abigrace, also an eighth-grade student in the gifted program at Five Forks Middle School, said, "I worked on my classical variation and Mr. Nirewicz's contemporary piece with Miss Lisa for about four months."

In addition to the contemporary work, Abigrace also performed a classical variation.

"The variation from 'Diana and Acteon' is challenging," she said. "Miss Lisa very wisely chose it for me, as the variation shows my strengths and leaves a wonderful opportunity for growth."

GBT is not a competition-oriented studio, but the Youth America Grand Prix is an unusual type of event, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It is the world's largest student ballet scholarship competition that awards more than $250,000 annually in scholarships to leading dance schools worldwide. The competition is held annually around the world and in New York City, and is open to dance students of all nationalities ages 9 to 19 years old.

"I don't ordinarily believe dance is the right avenue for competition," Robson said. "However, it is a great learning tool if you can keep the right perspective. Abigrace will never be as nervous to perform for an adoring public audience again, and the coaching process is so valuable! She is a delight to work with as she is so determined to achieve her highest level of potential. And she did!"

Abigrace's parents, Dawn and Len Diprima, accompanied Robson and their daughter to Columbia.

"We had no idea what to expect," Len Diprima said. "I know we were more nervous than Abigrace, but Lisa kept her very calm and focused. We are so proud of her performance!"

Her results were on such an excellent level that she was extended the invitation to compete in New York City on March 21 through 27. In fact, Abigrace placed third in her division of 57 dancers for her contemporary dance and in the top 12 for her classical variation. The contemporary piece choreographed by Nirewicz is titled "Still ..." and is performed to a Bach cello solo.

"Mr. Nirewicz's piece is a blessing to me," Abigrace said. "He choreographed it with beautiful movement that works so well with the music, giving opportunity to express emotion to the fullest."

Len Diprima sums up his daughter's accomplishment, saying, "Abigrace's achievements we feel are directly proportional to her dedication and the quality of instruction she has been given over the 11 years she has attended GBT. She has always set her goals very high and is disappointed when she is not pushed to her limit. I think she is the most self-disciplined member of the family and this is reflected in her dance and in her school work."

Robson continued, "This was a launching for Abigrace into the eyes of highly esteemed judges and directors. She generated enormous interest! There will be decisions to make regarding the opportunities that will be presented. But, it is of course validating and exciting."

For information about Youth American Grand Prix, visit www.yagp.org/eng/

index.php. For information about Gwinnett Ballet Theatre, visit www.gwinnettballet.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.