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ART BEAT: Gwinnett Ballet to host Youth America Grand Prix's Southeastern Semifinals

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Special Photo GBT dancer Abigrace Diprima competed at the 2012 Youth American Grand Prix. Next year's event will be hosted by the Gwinnett Ballet Theatre.

In the world of classical ballet, there is no larger competition for young dancers than the Youth America Grand Prix. This prestigious event spans the globe with semifinal competitions in numerous countries and across the US. A recent major motion picture about the event, "First Position," was released to critical acclaim in May, confirming the competition's reach and appeal.

YAGP now has a presence in our community. Gwinnett Ballet Theatre will be the host for the Southeastern USA Semifinals on March 1 to 3. Competition activity will fill the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center and GBT's 20,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art new studios in Lawrenceville will offer master classes taught by some of the biggest names in the ballet world.

"Hosting the Youth America Grand Prix is an honor for GBT," Artistic Director Wade Walthall said. "It will bring many excellent teachers, young dancers and their families to Gwinnett, and offer GBT a celebratory experience for our first year in our new location."

Gwinnett Ballet Theatre snagged the event largely because the School Director Lee Olsen had been active with YAGP in years past with her own school, Pacific Ballet Academy in Honolulu. Olsen's name was spotted by Shelley King, YAGP's director of internal affairs, in a press release announcing GBT's new location. A few phone calls later, GBT was the new host for the southeastern semifinals and the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center was procured for the competition events. These semifinals had previously been conducted in Columbia, S.C.

"YAGP is a wonderful experience for young dancers," Olsen said. "They have the opportunity to meet their counterparts from other areas of the U.S. and over 25 countries. They get to see where they stand in relation to their peers, take classes from marvelous teachers and make friends for life. If they do well in the competition, they are invited to participate in the finals in New York City in May."

Hosting the event also requires help from area resources and the Gwinnett Convention and Visitor's Bureau was on the spot.

"We are very excited about the Youth America Grand Prix coming to the Gwinnett," GCVB's Executive Director Lisa Anders said. "This premier cultural event will showcase the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center, Gwinnett Ballet Theatre and all the attendees and their families will have the chance to explore Gwinnett and Atlanta. It's quite an honor to hold an event of this level and we are looking forward to it."

The YAGP was founded in 1999 by two dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev. YAGP is a nonprofit organization created with a mission to provide educational and professional opportunities to young dancers ages 9 to 19, acting as a stepping stone to a professional dance career.

Now in its 13th Season, YAGP has awarded over $2 million in scholarships to leading dance schools around the globe. More than 25,000 dancers worldwide have participated in YAGP's international workshops, competitions and audition classes and more than 200 YAGP alumni are now dancing in 50 companies around the world, including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, among others. It is anticipated that many young dancers from the Atlanta area will be competing at YAGP close to home in March of 2013.

For more information about YAGP, visit www.yagp.org.

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