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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, May 4, 2018 11 months ago

Orlando Ballet School dancers shine in New York

Dancers from the Orlando Ballet School were on the international stage at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York last month.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

Six students from the Orlando Ballet School traveled to New York City last month to dance in the Youth America Grand Prix finals — and some of them came back with accolades, scholarships and even job offers.

The students made the trip to the Big Apple to compete against dancers from around the globe on April 13 through 20. Ballet performers from as far away as Australia, Spain and Canada competed for glory at the PepsiCo Theatre at State University of New York and the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center.

This wasn’t the first go-around for Orlando Ballet School dancer Jolie Rose Lombardo — it was her fourth time competing in the prestigious international competition. She’s only 14 years old.

“It’s a big deal, because there’s translators everywhere and you meet friends,” Lombardo said. “I’ve had friends at YAGP for all four years and we always meet up every year. It’s like a reunion almost.”

This year, Lombardo came out on top in the Junior Women division, earning first place out of 10,000 dancers in the competition (including regionals and the finals in New York). She captured the title out of 168 junior girls in the finals thanks to her adept performances of “Copellia,” “Sepia Montage” and “Pas D’Esclave.” 

“I am overwhelmed,” Lombardo said. “I am so happy and so excited that I got first in Junior Women. I’ve been doing YAGP for four years, so I’ve kind of been working up to this, finally winning.”

She was also one of eight dancers chosen to perform in the “Stars of Today Meets Stars of Tomorrow” gala, which showcases the dancing of professionals and young talented students with potential. She was the only American chosen.

Lombardo left the competition with a full scholarship with room and board to John Cranko Schule Stuttgart Ballet in Germany. She begins next year.

“I am so excited,” she said. “The only thing that’s going to be a little difficult is the language barrier, but I’ve heard that everybody speaks English there and they’re all very welcoming. I’m just super excited to have all the hard training and being around the company members all the time and starting my career in the international ballet world.”

A dream come true

It was a similar experience of satisfaction for Orlando Ballet School dancer Joseph Markey, 16, who finished among the top 12 Senior Men out of 72 men in the finals.

“It was definitely a great opportunity, and I totally felt prepared by the school teachers and they were there to help me along the way,” Markey said. “It was just a reassuring factor that I can actually do this, and I can make this dream happen. Just to be able to perform on the Lincoln Center stage was wonderful, taking the bow to end and you look and there’s like five different tiers of balconies. It’s like, ‘Wow, you just performed on one of the biggest stages in all of the world.’”

Markey performed “Ascension” as his contemporary piece and “Sleeping Beauty Act 3” as his classical piece. The week in New York was the culmination of years of hard work for the dancer from Jacksonville. Markey started dancing at age 3 and always dreamed of being a professional dancer.

“I started really getting into ballet I would say three years ago,” he said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t like ballet — I came out of classes crying. I had a really good teacher back at my home studio, who helped me to fall in love with ballet and it’s just taken me to here. I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to dance. Just to be able to do that is fulfilling for me.”

The highlight of Markey’s time in New York came after the competition had ended. Markey participated in a class that week in New York with the American Ballet Theater Studio Company. In the lobby of the Lincoln Center after the competition, he was handed an envelope. Inside was a pamphlet telling Markey he had been offered a contract as a dancer in the company. He was now a professional ballet dancer.

“It was something that I kind of dreamed about happening for this whole year,” he said. “Seeing that paper was a dream come true. I’ll be joining them next year, and I’m very excited about that.”


Tim Freed is an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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