With more than 1,200 competitors vying for attention and scholarship offers, students from two Sarasota ballet schools left an indelible impression this week on the judges at the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix, the world's largest ballet scholarship competition, in New York City.
The biggest splash came from students at the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, founded by former Sarasota Ballet dancers Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez barely three years ago. All five students from the school who qualified for the finals through a regional competition in Atlanta, returned home with either a medal or a scholarship offer.
Francisco Serrano, 17, son of the school's owners, placed within the top six men in the Seniors division, took a gold medal (first place) with fellow student Gabriella Stilo in the pas de deux division dancing "Le Corsaire," and received a full scholarship from the Royal Ballet in London, which he will begin attending this fall.
Stilo, 14, placed in top 12 in the women's Junior division and received a full year scholarship to the Houston Ballet School.
Among other Sarasota Cuban Ballet students, Adriana Hitchcock, 17, received a company contract from Ballet West II -- the only company contract offered to any student at the YAGP; Alvaro Montelongo, 17, was awarded full summer scholarship to the Rock School, the Alvin Ailey School and Jacobs Pillow; and Lenin Valladares, 17, received full summer scholarship to the Paris Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet School and the Joffrey.
From the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory for Dance at the Sarasota Ballet, Olivia Ratner and Eddie Duffy were the youngest pair to land in the top 12 pas de deux couples, which is not divided by age group. Yamil Maldonado, 18, a trainee with the Sarasota Ballet, received a scholarship offer from the San Francisco Ballet. And the Princess Grace Foundation expressed interest in Rachel Silverman as a scholarship recipient.
The showing by Sarasota dancers at the YAGP was as strong as it has been since the competition started in 1999. Congratulations to all these deserving and hardworking local students.