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Ballymena Ballerina to compete again in world’s largest ballet scholarship audition

Georgia Crawford in her handmade tutu designed by Ffiona Dunbar. Georgia will perform Aurora’s Act III variation from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.

Georgia Crawford in her handmade tutu designed by Ffiona Dunbar. Georgia will perform Aurora’s Act III variation from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.


Nine dancers from High Points Youth Ballet (HPYB), a Belfast-based ballet school and youth company, will travel to Paris the first week of November to compete in YAGP’s International Youth Grand Prix Semi-Final where they will be considered for scholarships to the world’s leading dance schools and festivals.


Among them this season is Georgia Crawford, 17, from Ballymena, who goes to Belfast Royal Academy.

 


Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) is the world’s largest student ballet scholarship audition. It reaches over 15,000 dance students annually, and its alumni are now dancing with 80 professional dance companies around the world. One of its alum is Melissa Hamilton, a First Soloist with The Royal Ballet in London, who grew up in Dromore, Co. Down. Melissa won the Grand Prix award at YAGP in 2007 and following that she joined The Royal Ballet.

 

HPYB is the only school on the island of Ireland to be sending dancers to this high-level competition. HPYB was founded in 2011 by Turkish ballerina Rana O’Brien, who recognised the need for more intensive ballet training for aspiring dancers in Northern Ireland. The organisation began by hosting occasional masterclasses until 2018, when American dancer Jacob Allison founded HPYB’s year-round pre-professional training programme and youth company in collaboration with Rana and Anna Carapellotti, also an American ballet dancer.

 


“Events like YAGP are becoming incredibly important for those who aspire to be professional dancers,” said Jacob, HPYB’s Artistic Director.


“It’s important to go network with dance teachers and directors, and to see the level other dancers are reaching internationally. The preparation process is also important in itself, providing the knowledge and skills needed to succeed, like experience performing classical repertoire and working with different contemporary choreographers.”


Georgia Crawford in her handmade tutu designed by Ffiona Dunbar. Georgia will perform Aurora’s Act III variation from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.

Georgia Crawford in her handmade tutu designed by Ffiona Dunbar. Georgia will perform Aurora’s Act III variation from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.


HPYB invites only a select group of its dancers to participate in YAGP due to the level and commitment required for such an opportunity. These dancers train with HPYB in Vaganova-based ballet technique, pointe, contemporary dance, and physical conditioning, in addition to managing their academic commitments.


Georgia, the fantastically talented local dancer joined HPYB’s pre-professional training programme and youth company in its inaugural season in 2018 and since then has played a variety of roles in its local productions. Georgia was one of the first cohort of five from HPYB to go to a YAGP semi-final in 2022.

 


“YAGP is a big commitment and the world of dance is highly competitive, but getting to compete at this level, potentially resulting in recognition for our individual hard work and for ballet in Northern Ireland in general, can only be a good thing,” said Georgia of the opportunity.


"We're very proud of what we do, and we're grateful to our teachers and to YAGP for the learning opportunities it offers. I'm just really looking forward to being there with the team and giving it our best!”


Leah McNally, Lucy Dunbar, Georgia Crawford, Kristina Murphy, Tess French, Zara Crawford, Madison Crawford, Aoife Finnieston, Amelia Larmour. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.

The nine HPYB dancers competing at YGP Paris in Nov 2023 in their handmade classical costumes at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast (from L to R): Leah McNally, Lucy Dunbar, Georgia Crawford, Kristina Murphy, Tess French, Zara Crawford, Madison Crawford, Aoife Finnieston, Amelia Larmour. Photo by Sofia De Vasconcelos of Khali and Me Photography.


Each of the nine dancers attending will present one or two classical variations coached by Jacob, Anna, and Rana. A ‘classical variation’ is a solo dance from the ballet repertoire that requires significant stamina and skill ‘en pointe,’ as well as precision and quality of movement. Prior to HPYB’s pre-professional training programme being founded in 2018, there wasn’t a strong tradition of learning repertoire as a part of a ballet education here in Northern Ireland. The girls all have bespoke, handmade costumes and headpieces for their classical pieces made by HPYB’s talented team of costumers, Laura Murphy, Ffiona Dunbar, and Katrina Larmour.

 


The dancers will also present contemporary solos created by choreographers Katie Robb, Anna McCoy and Hannah Hornsby from Northern Ireland and Aaron Lind from Scotland, and a contemporary ensemble by Argyro Tsampazi, another member of HPYB’s international team. In addition to presenting their pieces, the dancers will get to take masterclasses in the iconic Paris Opera Ballet School with renowned ballet Directors and Teachers.

 

Georgia reflected on her first experience at YAGP:


“The classes were inspiring, as I was competing alongside hundreds of super talented dancers from across the world. It was good to go and see how other dancers work and approach things. Seeing things done differently helps form a bigger picture. However, it’s also important not to compare yourself too much to anyone else, to just stay focused and do your best. Looking back to YAGP last season, it was definitely one of the best parts of my year. I’m sure this year will build on that.”

 


Following her performance at YAGP, Georgia was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Nervi Festival in Genoa, Italy, which she described as “the highlight of her summer.”


Video of Georgia dancing.

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There she had the opportunity to take masterclasses with Directors of world-leading ballet schools and companies and perform in YAGP’s annual Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow Gala alongside top international ballet dancers, including Principals of the Royal Ballet Natalia Osipova and Reece Clarke.

 

“We were delighted for Georgia to have secured this opportunity for herself where she got to represent Northern Ireland on an international stage, especially because it’s not the type of event where everyone walks away with a prize,” said Jacob. “Regardless of the outcome this year, we’re really proud of all of the girls. The growth these dancers have achieved this past year is impressive and an accomplishment in itself.”

 


You can support Georgia and the other HPYB dancers by watching them perform and participate in the masterclasses in Paris via livestream. Follow @belfastballet for updates on when and how to watch them dance!

 

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