In 1984, Italian-born dancer Viviana Durante leaped onto the stage at the Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland and was crowned its top award. She was just 17 at the time. That same year, Durante pirouetted her way to the Royal Ballet in London, making soloist by 19 and principal by 21, becoming the youngest dancer to take that position. The same projection could be made of Houston-based dancer Madison Young, the 17 year-old ballerina in her first year at Houston Ballet II.
Young, originally from the Salt Lake City area in Utah, recently arrived back in Houston from a trip to Switzerland where she was awarded second place honors at Prix de Lausanne, arguably the most coveted competition for the world’s youngest dancers.
“It’s almost like a giant recruitment event. It opens a lot of doors,” the modest teen dancer says. Young is humble and a little shy when talking about her talents on view. She started dancing when she was seven before being handpicked by Houston Ballet principal dancer Sarah Webb in her native Utah. Two years ago Young packed up and headed to Houston, graduating high school early from online studies and focusing solely on dancing—and it’s paid off.
“I was offered an apprenticeship with the company so I plan on being here for a while. I really want to dance with this company.”
In Switzerland, Young performed Aurora’s Act 3 variation from The Sleeping Beauty, a challenging solo that she’s been perfecting for her upcoming participation in the Ballet’s production.
“My coach and I get together and learn what we’re going to perform and rehearse it for about a month and a half,” she notes, mentioning her work with coach Sabrina Lindsey that takes up most of her daily schedule.
For the Prix event in Lausanne, Young positioned herself against 66 of the world’s best dancers. The protocol is to send in a video featuring a piece of classic work and one of contemporary work in order to be invited. At the six-day competition, Young was tested on not only skill, but grace, poise and bravery.
“You show bravery and courage by being confident and humble, and that you can be an individual and not just blend in.”
For people who have this Black Swan–esque version of the ballet world in their head, Young can’t stress enough how communal it actually is.
“The whole week wasn’t so much about the competition—it’s about the experience,” she says. “You get to meet people from different backgrounds… I did actually make friends from Austria and Hungary and Russia and Germany and Africa.”