Madeline Baldwin, 11, stretched into the splits in a dingy hallway behind the John Hancock Hall stage. With a dozen anxious fellow performers around her, she tinkered with the bright red rose clip in her hair. In a few minutes, the young ballerina would walk onstage to perform “Paquita,” a 19th century classical ballet, for a panel of judges.
“I am excited to experience what it’s like and do what I love to do,” said Baldwin, a student at the Evjen Academy of Performing Arts in Farmington, Conn. “It’s bigger than anything I’ve done before — and in front of all these people.”
Baldwin is one of more than 700 dancers slated to compete in the regional arm of the Youth American Grand Prix, the world’s largest international student scholarship dance contest. A select few dancers who grace the Boston stage this weekend will move on to the finals in New York City, where they will face off to impress top ballet schools and companies.
Held March 5-7, the local semifinal hosts dancers ages 9 to 19 who mostly represent schools in Massachusetts and nearby states, like Rhode Island and Connecticut. Still, a few signed up independently or traveled from faraway spots such as Florida, Michigan, and even Japan. The dancers prepare contemporary or classical solos or take part in the ensemble competition.
Backstage, the energy is high. Hordes of performers run through their dances in the narrow hallways or by the stage wings. Dancers rush past the dressing rooms, spraying their hair into place and applying glitter around their eyes.
A 11-year-old dancer Eleanor Raedy smoothed her pink tutu before being called for her second dance of the day, the Cupid variation from “Don Quixote.”
“I like to dance a lot,” said Raedy, the only dancer representing the Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet in Newtown, Conn. “And I want to do well.”
Eager teachers and parents offered last-minute critiques to the students practicing pirouettes and positions near the judges’ break room. Nicole LaChioma was one of them.
LaChioma, a teacher at Rockwell Dance Center in Trumbull, Conn., brought 40 students to the competition.
“We didn’t used to do competitions,” said LaChioma, a prior recipient of the Prix’s outstanding choreographer award. “But I think it keeps the students accountable and gives them something to look forward to. Plus it’s good to get feedback from someone unbiased.”
Former ballet dancers Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev founded the competition 21 years ago when they noticed the lack of ballet competitions in the country. In Russia, their native land, there were a number of them.
“There were a lot of jazz competitions back in the day,” said Gennadi. “But no ballet competitions. We filled that gap.”
The Prix has awarded more than $4 million to its participants in its two decades. Hundreds of Prix alumni now dance in professional companies, including American Ballet Theatre in New York and Boston Ballet.
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.