Colorado’s Olivia Daugherty Is About To Test Her Ballet Skill Against The Best In The World

January 31, 2019
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Olivia Daugherty, 15, rehearses a contemporary solo choreographed by Wayne McGregor for the Prix de Lausanne competition on Jan. 17, 2019 at her dance school in Littleton.

Fifteen-year-old Olivia Daugherty makes a solo from the classical ballet “La Bayadère” look easy — despite the actual difficulty it takes to master the 142-year-old dance.

“The whole variation is challenging, but I think the most challenging part for me is the second section,” Daugherty said.

That second part sometimes gets the better of the young dancer. It’s full of slow, sustained movements that require an exceptional amount of concentration and muscle control. Just the slightest mistake could be hard to recover from.

“You have to practice it a lot and get the muscle memory,” she said.

Daugherty has rehearsed nearly every day for months. It’s one of two solos she’s prepared for the Prix de Lausanne, a prestigious ballet competition in Switzerland. She’s one of 80 dancers in this year’s event.

The best young dancers from around the world compete for scholarships from top-tier ballet schools, including the Royal Ballet School in London and the Paris Opera Ballet School, and apprenticeships with celebrated professional companies, such as the Royal Danish Ballet or the English National Ballet.

The careers of some of the biggest superstar names in dance were launched from the Prix de Lausanne: Alessandra Ferri, Carlos Acosta and Diana Vishneva. Daugherty hopes to follow in their graceful footsteps.

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Olivia Daugherty runs through the “Wedding Pas de Deux” from Act II of “Don Quixote” with Isaac Mueller at the International Ballet School in Littleton on Jan. 17, 2019.

To master challenging moves, such as that tricky section in her “La Bayadère” solo, Daugherty uses visualization techniques, seeing in her mind how she wants to execute each step.

To get through the week of classes, rehearsals, performances and interviews at the competition, Daugherty will focus on optimism, “even when [I] get tired or things are don’t work.” After all, everything she does could affect her final score.

“Olivia’s got her head on her shoulders and her leg in the air,” Mark Carlson, Daugherty’s teacher and co-director of Littleton’s International Ballet School, quipped.

Carlson is an experienced hand when it comes to landing dancers in these tough competitions. He encourages his students to compete because he thinks these high-pressure events are great exposure for young dancers. Daugherty has been his pupil for a couple of years. Her family makes the more than an hour drive from Falcon to Littleton six to seven days a week to train.

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Olivia Daugherty, 15, rehearses her classical solo, a variation from the ballet “La Bayadère,” for the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition held in Switzerland.

Carlson will travel to Switzerland as “moral and emotional support.” But he said much of what happens at the competition will be up to Daugherty.

“Everything has to be coached,” Carlson explained. “But, I don’t go down to the last little finger because I like the dancers to express themselves.”

The first Prix de Lausanne competition was in 1973, making it one of the oldest international ballet competitions still operating. Artistic and executive director Kathryn Bradney said what sets this competition apart from others is the focus on amateur dancers ages 15 to 18.

Partner schools and professional companies attend the competition to look for “young talent that’s almost ready to be professional and we really are a springboard to put them in a professional ballet world,” Bradney said.

The week is intended to be a “learning experience as well as a competition.”

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Mark Carlson at his International Ballet School in Littleton on Jan. 17, 2019.

Dancers who don’t make it into the finals still could walk away with an offer of a year’s tuition, plus living expenses, at a major ballet school or an apprenticeship offer through the competition’s Netforming Forum. In 2018, 73 dancers participated in the forum and 151 offers were made.

Daugherty doesn’t seem to be that nervous. She feels like she already won just by competing and isn’t bothered by the judges’ constantly attentive eyes.

“It actually helps me to know that other people are watching so that I can always do my best.” she said.

The 47th Prix de Lausanne runs Feb. 3 - 10, 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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