The Prix de Lausanne is a prestigious annual International ballet competition held in Lausanne, Switzerland. This year, out of 380 submissions from around the world, the competition only accepted three young men from the United States. One of them was from Yuma. KAWC’s Maya Springhawk Robnett has the story…
Ballet Yuma is a pre-professional ballet company tucked behind citrus groves on the edge of the Yuma desert. Young dancers fling themselves through a routine—dripping with sweat as they perform dramatic jumps and make graceful turns. The studio’s well-worn floor bears the impressions of the feet of the hundreds of dancers that have studied here.
One of these dancers is Eric Snyder, a student and company member at Ballet Yuma. He started here at age nine.
“My family has always been involved in the arts,” Snyder explains. “Like, my mom used to be an opera singer in her hometown and she introduced me and my siblings to musical theatre. And then I’ve known people who came to this studio and I don’t know—it was just an idea that came to my head. I always thought it was a pretty thing I wanted to try.”
Throughout class, his face alternates between intense concentration and dimpled grins. The lanky 16-year-old moves through the drills with precision and fluidity, his mop of brown hair falling in his face. He is in his element.
Snyder’s dream is to be a professional dancer; he spends over twenty hours a week practicing. He auditioned for the Prix de Lausanne in September.
“I sent them a video; it was about 15 minutes long and I show them some—just some aspects of my technique. And I was waiting for about two weeks,” Snyder says, “and just the idea of having that completely out of my hands was just, like, nerve-wracking.”
Snyder is homeschooled and takes courses at the local community college. But he says ballet comes first. And a panel of international judges recognized his talent and dedication.
“And then I finally got the email and I was like—oh, my goodness. And I called my mom and I told her, ‘Hey, I got into—I got into the Prix!’” Snyder says, smiling. “And then she started crying and then I started crying. That’s when I lost it, when I saw my mom’s reaction.”
But when Snyder first sent in his audition tape, he says didn’t think he had a really had a shot.
“I’ve always thought of it as something that was very prestigious and above me,” he explains, “especially coming from, you know, somewhere like Yuma where not a lot of people know what Yuma is…”
Carina Gresham, 21, studied at Ballet Yuma since the age of 2. Recently back in Yuma after 3 years with State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara, California, Gresham says she has a new perspective on her old training ground.
“As small town kids, we don’t really realize it because—we’re from a small town!” Gresham laughs, “And so, this is all we’ve worked for and, you know, it takes a second to really take a step back and process, you know, what we’ve done and the things we’re really recognized for.”
Gresham says Snyder’s achievement is a source of pride for the entire company.
“When Eric told me he was going to the Prix, I was like, ‘That’s awesome!’ And then I was just thinking one night and I was like…Wow. He’s like, really going to the Prix, you know? It’s like, that is so amazing…,” Gresham says, grinning.
Ballet Yuma is under the direction of Jon Cristofori and his wife Kathleen Sinclair. They started Yuma Ballet Academy, the academic counterpart to Ballet Yuma, 35 years ago. The spry 73-year-old Cristofori has been dancing since he was twelve.
He calls Snyder the best student he’s had and, unlike Snyder himself, Cristofori wasn’t surprised the talented young dancer got into the Prix.
“Very proud, yeah very proud of Eric,” Cristofori nods. “And we sort of knew it was going to happen because he’s been growing steadily and he’s achieved a lot and when he performs, he brings down the house.”
For the Prix de Lausanne, only 80 dancers are selected from across the world: forty boys, forty girls. They will perform and take classes before a panel of nine jury members. Cristofori says it’s an opportunity that opens doors for students with dreams of a career in ballet. Those who make it into the Prix de Lausanne finals are often offered scholarships or apprenticeships.
Snyder says he hopes to get a scholarship at a European ballet school to work his way up the ranks into a professional company. And he says he knows how lucky he is to have that chance….
“So much more can come from Yuma than people think,” Snyder says. “This is a world-scale opportunity for me. It makes me shiver to think if I did not have Yuma Ballet Academy here, I would not have the opportunities that I have today.”
Eric Snyder leaves for the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland in late January. He carries with him the hopes of hundreds of “small-town dancers” from a farm town in Arizona.
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Jan 8, 2018 at 10:33am PST