Two Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School students to compete in international competitions


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The path from hopeful dancer to distinguished artist is the substance of dreams and story lines.

In reality series such as Lifetime's "Dance Moms," young girls and boys move their bodies the best they can. In documentaries like 2011's "First Position," ballet dancers from across the globe represent their countries at prestigious competitions.

But for two Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School students, living this narrative is in their near futures. Elenora Morris, 17, of Ben Avon is one of six young women from the United States tapped to compete in the annual Prix de Lausanne taking place today through Saturday in Switzerland. In March, Sophie Sea Silnicki, 15, of Fairmont, W.Va., will dance in Indianapolis at the regional competition of the Youth America Grand Prix, which sends top dancers from throughout the world to perform in the final rounds at Lincoln Center in New York City.

These contests are more than just trophies and ribbons, however. The Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix are among the holy grail of dance showcases, uniting aspiring ballet and contemporary dancers for workshops and competitions evaluated by industry professionals. Prizes can include scholarships to intensives with ballet companies, traineeships and, for dancers who are nearly finished with school, entry-level jobs with professional companies.

"I'm looking forward to being around some incredibly talented dancers my age. I think I can learn a lot from them," says Elenora, who has been in the PBT School since she was 8. She is now a full-time high school student in the pre-professional program, training six days a week while taking classes through Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Elenora's instructors encouraged her to audition for the Prix de Lausanne, which requires dancers to submit a video of classwork and a contemporary variation. Out of the approximately 250 who entered from 20 nationalities, 81 were invited to compete. Three others selected from the DanzaAmerica contest in Argentina will join them in Lausanne, Switzerland. After a week of classes and competition, a narrowed group will move on to the final round.

"Making [the finals] would be amazing," Elenora says. "No matter what happens, I'm going to take away so much from it. Just the exposure I will get will be really invaluable."

Sophie's journey to the Youth America Grand Prix also has been sprinkled with excitement and earnest preparations.

Now in her fourth year at the PBT School, she commutes several days a week about 90 miles from Fairmont, W. Va., for class. She gets up at 5:20 a.m. to make it for her 8 a.m. dance class in the Strip District. Then there are cyber classes with the Keystone School, followed by more dancing in the evening. When she returns home, she takes another class at 8 p.m. at her mom's dance studio.

"I feel free when I dance. It's a way to express yourself through movement," she says. "It's an amazing feeling."

In Indianapolis, she'll be dancing to qualify for a spot in the New York City competition, which she has earned in the past. Sophie has participated in Youth America Grand Prix events since she was 10 and has won scholarships for programs with American Ballet Theatre, Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and the Bolshoi Ballet in New York City. In 2012, after advancing to the finals at Lincoln Center, she was asked to perform at the young medalists gala in Miami.

Elenora and Sophie aren't anomalies at the PBT School, which has had a couple of other students in recent years work their way onto the international competition circuit. In 2011, Aviana Adams and Anwen David, then 15 and 16, respectively, were candidates for the Prix de Lausanne.

Aviana is a student with PBT School's pre-professional program. Anwen now trains with San Francisco Ballet School's pre-professional division, an opportunity she gained thanks to a contact she made at the Prix de Lausanne.

For PBT School staff, grooming dancers who are strong enough to compete in these contests is considered a testament to the school's caliber.

"It's the ability to expose young dancers to more potential, to get a job and then, of course, also for us to show ourselves to the community and say, 'We're in Pittsburgh, and we're training incredible dancers,' " says Marjorie Grundvig, who directs the PBT School with Dennis Marshall.

The school's pre-professional program consists of about 95 high school and graduate-level dancers, some of whom travel from various states and countries to study here. Sending dancers to the Youth American Grand Prix and Prix de Lausanne helps to attract new students, Ms. Grundvig says.

"It's helpful for everyone to know that, and it helps our dancers get jobs."

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Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com.


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