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Prix de Lausanne: An experience of a lifetime

Lincoln Sharp, Eliza Wenham and Austen McDonald. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.
Lincoln Sharp, Eliza Wenham and Austen McDonald. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.

This year’s 48th Prix de Lausanne held during 2 – 9 February, with Finals on 8 February, showcased some of the world’s most promising dancers in the stunning location of Montreux, Switzerland.

Out of 84 initially selected candidates, 77 participated in the week-long competition, with 21 being selected for the finals, which took place at the Auditorium Stravinski in Montreux.

At the end of the finals, the jury – conducted by the Director of the Ballet Teatro alla Scala in Milan and Prize Winner of the Prix de Lausanne 1977, Frédéric Olivieri –  announced eight award winners, from which, the charming Marco Mascara (Italy) received first place and Ava Arbuckle (United States) took second. 

To attend the Prix de Lausanne is an experience of a lifetime, and those who participate walk away far more enriched than one could ever anticipate. It is a pivotal point for many, and experiencing a week of classes and coaching with the world’s best teachers and choreographers, whilst simultaneously being assessed by jurors, streamed live and exposed to new opportunities, is beyond compare.

Here, Dance Informa catches up with three candidates from Sydney’s Tanya Pearson Academy: Austen McDonald, Eliza Wenham and Lincoln Sharp, who all recall their experience at the Prix de Lausanne as they prepare for the 2020 Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Finals in New York in April. But first, behind their training and preparation, is the Academy’s Artistic Director, Lucinda Dunn (OAM), former principal with The Australian Ballet, who shares her thoughts about her candidates and the event.

“The Prix de Lausanne is always a highlight to observe and absorb, for the candidates and coaches alike,” Dunn says. “My three candidates went into the competition hesitant and excited and came through the week with further excitement, somewhat exhaustion and many opportunities to explore and ponder. These young dancers endure daily classes and coaching, being watched by an audience, assessed by jurors all whilst the live streaming is happening. This is all a huge amount for young people to take on, but they all handled each situation with poise. Being physically and mentally at peak performance level over the week was a challenge and also exciting.”

Dunn adds, “I enjoyed watching coaches coach, ballet class being executed and students perform at the highest level. The Prix de Lausanne is a professionally run event, and it’s been a privilege to have been personally involved with it for over three decades, as a candidate and prize winner, member of the jury, and now accompanying talented students who are fortunate enough to be selected.”

Austen McDonald, finalist

Austen McDonald. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.

Age: 16
Years dancing: 4 years
Classical Variation: Napoli, first boy’s variation from “Pas de Six”
Contemporary Variation: “Libera Me” by Cathy Marston 

Prix de Lausanne highlights: “I had an amazing experience learning from the teachers at Prix de Lausanne. It was really great to learn new techniques that they teach at their schools and to grow as an artist.”

What advice you would give to other aspiring candidates? “I would say to anyone going to Prix to stay open-minded and enjoy the experience because it’s something that you only experience once in a lifetime.”

What will you perform at YAGP finals in New York? “I will be performing ‘Flames of Paris’ as my Classical variation and ‘Sophrosyne’ for my contemporary variation.”

What are you most looking forward to about YAGP Finals? “I am looking forward to the opportunity to continue to learn, as well as the experience of participating in classes with talented dancers from around the world.”

Dream company: “I am undecided at this time, as there are so many amazing schools led by incredibly talented teachers with a rich history of dance experience and passion.”

Favourite ballet: The Sleeping Beauty 

Eliza Wenham

Age: 16
Classical variation: Paquita, first girl’s variation from “Pas de trois”, Act 1 
Contemporary variation: “Abstract” by Jean-Christophe Maillot 

Eliza Wenham. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.
Eliza Wenham. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.

Describe your experience at the Prix de Lausanne? “The Prix de Lausanne was the most incredible week of my life. I gained so much knowledge from the amazing teachers and coaches and made friends with dancers from all over the world. I really didn’t want the week to end.”

What was the most memorable part? “The most memorable part for me was getting to take class every day under Elizabeth Platel’s guidance. She was truly so inspiring. Another highlight was definitely performing my variations on the beautiful Stravinski Auditorium stage. It was a dream come true for me and felt so surreal.”

How did you grow as a dancer? “This experience has helped me grow as a dancer in many ways. Firstly, the opportunity to be coached by Monique Loudrier and Elizabeth Platel was life-changing. In just one week, I learnt so much both technically and artistically. The competition also inspired and encouraged me to believe in myself and each person’s individuality as a dancer. I feel so inspired after this experience and want to take all that I have learned with me into the future.” 

What was the best piece of advice you were given? “Breathe. Remember to breathe. In our daily ballet class, Elizabeth Platel would often remind us to breathe and relax. Taking a deep breath out and releasing the nerves allowed me to focus more on the present moment and enjoy it. This advice also really helped me stay calm on stage and in the wings before entering.” 

As you prepare for the YAGP Finals in New York, what will you apply from your week at the Prix de Lausanne? “For my YAGP preparation, I just want to take one day at a time and stay in the present moment.”

What are you most looking forward to about YAGP Finals? “I’m really looking forward to working on another new variation and the coaching sessions with my teachers. I’m also looking forward to meeting more dancers from around the world and being inspired by those around me.”

Lincoln Sharp

Age: 17 years old 
Years dancing: Ballet for 5 years and contemporary for 3 years
Classical Variation: Paquita, Grand Pas variation
Contemporary Variation: “Chroma” by Wayne McGregor

Lincoln Sharp. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.
Lincoln Sharp. Photo by Renate Hechter PureDynamics Photography.

Describe your experience at the Prix de Lausanne. “My experience at Prix was amazing. I loved learning from all the teachers and coaches we had. They were amazing. I also loved meeting people from around the world.”

What was the most memorable part? “The most memorable part of the Prix for me was just being able to perform my solos on the stage in front of an amazing jury and so many people watching, both on the internet and live.”

How did you grow as a dancer? “As the week went on, I found more belief in my dancing and just more confidence in myself.”

What was the best piece of advice you were given? “The best bit of advice I got was to believe in myself more and to trust myself more.”

As you prepare for the YAGP Finals in New York, what will you apply from your week at the Prix de Lausanne? “I haven’t fully made up my mind on what I will be performing at YAGP finals. It could be Siegfried from Swan Lake or my Paquita solo from Prix. I will take all my advice and corrections from the Prix and apply them to my chosen solo.”

What are you most looking forward to about YAGP Finals? “To performing again on an amazing stage with such an amazing history of performers and to do better than I did at Prix.”

Dream company: “My dream companies at the moment are Stuttgart Ballet, The Royal Ballet and La Scala.”

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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