high marks

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Nina Ananiashvili and Bruce Marks, photo by VAM Productions

There is a significant someone missing from my previous YAGP posts, and that’s because I thought he deserved one of his own. The Youth America Grand Prix’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award was given to charming Mr. Bruce Marks, and boy, is he deserving. Though Marks’ roster of lifetime achievements is exceedingly impressive- an alumni of Brandeis and Julliard, protege of Anthony Tudor, principal dancer with The Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Danish Ballet, Artistic Director of Ballet West and Boston Ballet, to name a few- his proudest achievement seems to be the one he’s still working on: inspiring the next generation.

By Annie Watt-47915-Bruce Marks

Bruce Marks dancing with YAGP competitors at the Stars Gala Dinner

Bruce Marks accepted his recognition during The Stars of Today Meet The Stars of Tomorrow gala, fittingly just after the massive collection of baby bunheads known as Grand Défilé finished performing. Adorable little Guin Anne and the lovely State Ballet of Georgia Artistic Director Nina Ananiashvili presented the award. Marks’ speech was smart, sincere- albeit a bit on the lengthy side- but gracious and passionate nonetheless. All adjectives that seem suitable to describing the illustrious man himself. But my interaction with Mr. Marks took those things one step further…

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Just after the gala dinner of a lifetime, as B and I were returning to the Empire to hit the rooftop for a nightcap, it became very apparent to us that every fancy person we’d rubbed elbows with that night was doing the same. Passing by familiar faces in the crosswalk and making our way to the entrance, we  practically bumped straight into Bruce Marks under the awning, chatting with a few adoring friends of his. We paused, his famous friends departed, and with his gaze right on us, we approached. I extended a hand to introduce myself, but instead Mr. Marks warmly interrupted, “Come here, give me a kiss.” I felt like I was back in the shoes of my 14-year-old self, awestruck over one of the true greats. Pulling us in for quick hugs, we managed our hellos and expressed thanks for his immense dedication to the furthering of ballet education. Of course, it was difficult not to let slip at least one remark about his incredible legacy as a dancer. To that he replied- humble as anything- some more eloquent version of being in the right place at the right time. Marks credited his success to the dancers who taught him, noting that his duty is to spread what they gave him, “from Bejing to Brazilia”. What Mr. Marks said next really stuck with me:

“I’m a conduit, not a camera.”

I’m a conduit, not a camera. It appears Marks would suggest that he is a transmitter, not a machine made to capture. His job, according to him, is to transfer information. It is not to contain and show, but to give away. It felt like a metaphor for something even more, like the truest expression of ballet itself. It is not a tangible, framable art form. Not something to be held or collected, but a series of hard-earned, emotional moments, given away to the audience in the form of some lingering impression.

the final round

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Junior Grand Prix Winner, Madison Penney in Variation from La Esmeralda. Photo by VAM productions.

 

Tiny netted buns flock from all directions toward Lincoln Center, filling the surrounding sidewalks with even more bustle than usual. It’s April in New York City and that means flowery trees, energetic birds, and equally excited young ballet hopefuls buzzing backstage at Youth America Grand Prix.

Wednesday night’s Final Round filled me with all kinds of nostalgic warm fuzzies, a feeling that never quite managed to find me while I was actually competing all those years ago. As the gold curtain rose on little Remie Madeleine Goins, first competitor of the evening, those fuzzies shifted from nostalgia to pure adoration (is there anything cuter than a beautiful, 12-year-old teeny Harlequinade?). About 7 seconds in, that feeling shifted again to one of astonishment; Little Miss Goins whipped out some pretty spectacular pirouettes with gusto and sass to match. She went on to win the Shelley King Award For Excellence, and excellent she was.

From there the performances ebbed and flowed, with standouts in a seas of Esmeraldas from ultimate Junior Grand Prix and First Place award-winners Madison Penney and Hannah Park, respectively, as well as a technically clean and precisely French Satanella from Elisabeth Beyer. The crowd fell hard and fast for Taro Kurach’s Basilio (the longest applause I’ve heard at YAGP since Jim Nowakowski), but for me, the true highlight of the night came from sweet Viola Pantuso’s Fairy Doll variation. Though her success was no huge surprise (Miss Pantuso hails from Ellison Ballet, aka New York’s Leading Compete-erina Factory), a rather serious tumble mid-solo did leave things hanging in the balance a bit. What impressed me most was not the way she popped right back up without missing a beat, gorgeous technique highlighted by a tastefully sparkling costume, but her unmistakable stage presence- that thing that simply can’t be taught. It can be coached, though! And ex-FBP Ballet Mistress/dear old friend, Jolanta Valeikaite (who was previously honored with YAGP’s Teacher of the Year Award), is just the woman for the job! Leave to sweet, tough, brutal, loving Jolanta to put her whole self into nurturing a perfectly polished performance. Bravo!