Houston Ballet II’s Tyler Donatelli was one of only 10 dancers from the United States accepted to compete at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne this year. To get the inside scoop on the ballet competition, DS asked Tyler to keep a diary during her week in Switzerland. —Jenny Dalzell
I just arrived in Lausanne, and it’s breathtaking. It’s been a long trip to Switzerland: a plane from Houston to Washington, D.C., a seven-hour flight to Geneva, and then a 30-minute train to Lausanne. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. My teacher Sabrina Lenzi came with me, along with Michael Ryan, another Houston Ballet II dancer who is competing.
I had to head to the theater for a warm-up class right after I checked in at the hotel. Once there, I got to practice in a studio with a raked floor, just like the stage where we’ll be performing. I didn’t feel too shaky—I just had to make a few adjustments, like really leaning forward when doing turns upstage. I kept my practice session pretty short; I didn’t want to overdo it. Plus, I had to head over to registration to get my number (304!) and instructions for the week. OK—off to bed now. I need some serious sleep.
The first official day of the competition! It started with a judged ballet class, with about 30 other girls in my group. I wasn’t too nervous—I’ve competed at Youth America Grand Prix, which also judges classes, so I know how to stay relaxed.
Next I had a stage run-through of my classical piece. I’m performing Gamzatti’s variation from La Bayadère. Whenever I get onstage, I get this sensation—a burst of electricity through my body. I stop thinking, let my body do the work and live in the moment.
Next came contemporary class. I wasn’t used to the teacher’s style, so remembering the combinations was a challenge. But one of my goals this year has been to improve my contemporary movement quality, and I think these classes will help.
Jet lag has caught up to me, and waking up today wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, I was ready for another day of dancing. First up was another judged ballet class. The teacher, Stefanie Arndt, gave corrections about placement that reminded me of my teacher at home, which was comforting.
I also had a coaching session for my contemporary solo, from Richard Wherlock’s Le Sacre du Printemps. When I was selected to compete in Switzerland, I started learning the solo from online videos. Now, after the session, I’m relieved by how closely my teachers and I interpreted the movement. Working with Richard’s assistant helped me put the finishing touches on the piece and really dig out the raw emotion behind the choreography.
Today began with a (thankfully!) non-judged class in the studio with the raked floor. It’s so different taking barre on a slant—but I actually love it. The rake makes me lift up more, and it’s easier to feel if my weight’s too far back or forward.
After that, I had my third contemporary class of the week—this time judged. I was a little apprehensive going in: I was in the first group in the front line, and my focus had to be on point.
Next came a classical coaching session with Monique Loudières, a former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile. She stressed simplicity in positions, and gave a great tip about lifting up, which helped fix some of the difficult transitions in the variation.
After yesterday’s intense contemporary and classical coaching sessions, I got a good night’s sleep to prepare for today—Selection Day! When I arrived at the theater, the men and women in my group took a class on the stage. Then I put on my tutu and got pumped up—I love rocking out to Aerosmith before a performance. Before I knew it, my number was called. Leaping and turning was exhilarating—I didn’t want to leave the stage!
After a quick change into my contemporary costume and a fast tease of my hair, I was back onstage. I tuned out the world behind the wings, and for the first time, I felt like I was really portraying the character and story of the dance.
Then I waited to find out which dancers would advance to the finals. To pass the time, Michael and I played endless amounts of Flappy Bird on our phones. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass to the next round. I’m disappointed, but I put forth my best effort and I’m proud of myself for making it as far as I did. On a brighter side, Michael did make it through, and I’m excited to cheer him on tomorrow.
I haven’t had much time to wallow—the past two days have been pretty nonstop. Yesterday, I participated in a networking class where we took ballet with school and company directors watching. Today, we got the results: I was offered two jobs—with Julio Bocca’s company in Uruguay and with Queensland Ballet in Australia—and five scholarships to schools worldwide, including the English National Ballet’s
summer program and the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart. I decided to decline the offers—I’m really happy at Houston Ballet II. But I’m honored so many directors were
interested in me. And even though I wasn’t a finalist, the exposure I’ve gotten at Prix de Lausanne has been an award in itself.