Twelve-year-old Graham Barnes brought home the second-place prize in his age group from Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Semifinals, Feb. 1-4, in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Graham’s age division includes young men ages 12 through 14 years of age.
Youth America Grand Prix is the most renowned student ballet competition in the United States and one of the most prestigious international competitions, as winners in the New York finals receive offers to train or perform with the best ballet companies around the world. Students who do well in the semifinals also receive offers for training, including scholarships to special programs. Graham received invitations for future opportunities with North Carolina School of the Arts, Patel Conservatory/Next Generation Ballet, and was offered additional scholarship opportunities with Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Graham attended the Bolshoi Academy’s summer intensive in Connecticut in 2017 on a partial scholarship, and was once again invited to attend in 2018 on scholarship. Additionally, earlier this year he was offered a scholarship to attend the International Ballet student workshop in
Graham has been a student at Kingsport Ballet for most of his life; he began classes at the young age of 3.
“My older sister took classes at Kingsport Ballet,” says Graham, “and I went with her. I would wait in the hall, picking up various steps and combinations.”
Not surprisingly, he attracted a lot of attention, as he was a quick study and practiced diligently. Bertina Dew, Kingsport Ballet’s executive director, relayed a humorous, but very telling, story.
“We were rehearsing ‘Nutcracker’ and a young lady was rehearsing the ‘Spanish Variation’ and Graham had been watching her and studying the dance and noticed that she had forgotten a part of the Variation and pointed it out to her. She didn’t believe that she had skipped part of it, so he danced it for her. She was amazed that he had picked up the dance, because it was a lengthy piece. She asked him if he knew more of it, which he did and proceeded to dance the entire Variation for her.”
This was the beginning of the dancer that Graham would become.
Graham is a unique young man. He is focused, disciplined, studious, serious, and totally immerses himself in ballet. He not only takes lessons (six days a week), he reads, watches and studies ballets. He especially enjoys story ballets (such as “Sleeping Beauty”) and, according to Bertina, is familiar with most of the famous ballets.
When asked where he would like his dance to “take him,” he answers that his favorite part of ballet (for now) is the performance. He would like to be a world-renowned principal dancer, possibly teaching, and having a part in the design and construction of sets and costumes. Graham is also interested in having his own school. But for now, he has some growing to do to build the muscles that male dancers have to have to do the lifts and jumps that so many ballets require.
“Ballet is definitely strenuous,” says Graham. “I don’t just dance a few hours a day - it’s more like a few hours in the morning, then some rest, then a lot of dance in the afternoon, then dinner, then more dance (like rehearsals or performances) in the evening.”
It is a grueling routine, but one that he loves and knows he must work hard toward.
Graham was prepared for the YAGP competition by several instructors at Kingsport Ballet, including artistic director Valeria Sinyavskya, and teachers Leonid Flegmatov, Vadim Bur and Erika Ballard. He performed a modern piece choreographed by Erika Ballard entitled “La Rosa” and classical pieces “Satanelles” and “Pas d’Esclave” from “Le Corsaire.”
What does the future hold for this amazing young dancer? Practice, practice, and more practice. Travel, intense focus, building friendships, learning to depend on and trust himself, always appreciating what he has been given and never taking anything for granted - especially excellent training, humility and a loving family.