Conservatory of Performing Arts

Point Park dancers compete on international stage, earn top 12 placement

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Point Park University dance ensemble was named one of the top 12 dance ensembles at the Youth America Grand Prix International Student Ballet and Contemporary Dance Scholarship Competition (YAGP) in New York City. The ensemble Interconnect, choreographed by jazz faculty member Kiesha Lalama-White, received the honor after competing at the competition March 17-23.

Two Point Park ensembles earned the chance to compete in the prestigious event after receiving top honors at the YAGP Regional Semi-Finals in Philadelphia in late January.

At the semi-finals, Interconnect was named first place ensemble, the first Point Park ensemble to receive the high honor in the three years the University has been participating. It is the third consecutive ensemble to place in the top 12 and be invited to the finals in New York. The second ensemble, Solstice, choreographed by ballet faculty member Peter LeBreton Merz, also placed in the top 12 and was invited to compete at the finals, as well.

Merz was named outstanding choreographer, the second Point Park University faculty member to receive such a prestigious honor. Last year Lalama-White was awarded this honor. Also for the first time, a Point Park University dancer, Lauren Blakeney, placed third overall in the contemporary category.

“These accomplishments make this our most successful year so far,” said Merz, assistant professor and head of ballet at Point Park.

According to Merz, the Youth America Grand Prix is one of the world’s largest classically ballet-based scholarship competitions. Now in its 11th year, it has grown from a small national competition to one that is international, attracting dance ensembles from around the world, including cities from all over the United States to Brazil, Japan and Europe.

“The competition attracts thousands of dancers every year. The final-round audiences tend to be artistic directors and the top coaches and teachers from Moscow, Paris, Tokyo, Korea — everywhere that ballet is taught. They come to New York in the spring just for the finals,” said Merz.

For Blakeney, a freshman dance major with a concentration in jazz, the experience of competing at such a prestigious event is exciting and challenging.

“I have some really great teachers at Point Park, and they helped me so much. I feel that without their help and direction I would not have done as well as I did,” said Blakeney.  “Just getting the chance to compete on stage and to meet and connect with the high-caliber dancers that compete at this level in New York is amazing."

“I am extremely proud of our dancers here at Point Park,” said Merz. “To be named outstanding choreographer (at the semi-finals) just blew me away. I was not expecting it. It really surprised me. It was an incredibly fulfilling achievement.”

As an additional part of the New York competition, Point Park also participated in a university audition event, where 39 high school students from around the world competed for scholarships to attend Point Park University and six other area schools for dance. According to Merz, Point Park was able to offer eight scholarships to prospective students. In the past two years the University has participated in the auditions, five dancers have matriculated to Point Park University.

Students who participated:

Charlotte Ahlstrom
Benjamin Belhuemer
Lauren Blakeney
Oscar Carrillo
Dennis Davis
William Geoghegan
Taylor Gillan
Stephanie Hall
Riley Moyano
Nina Newkirk
Melissa Rauton
Delaney Shorb
Kathryn Van Yahres
Jocelyn Wright


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