Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Agbay and Youth America Grand Prix

Vice President of Communications for The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory Lisa Condit spoke with Director of Dance Jennifer Agbay about the conservatory students’ incredible Youth America Grand Prix performance. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Lisa: Welcome Jennifer Agbay, our director of dance. I thought it was important to invite you onto the program so you could talk about the experience of being back in the theatre for the YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) competition. This was the first time people were able to perform on our main stage since we closed for the pandemic. Can you tell us more about this dance competition? 

A color image of two dancers in a dance studio. They each have their hair up in a neat bun and their backs are to the camera. They are wearing warmup clothes and their jackets read Hanover Theatre Conservatory for the Performing Arts. They are in fifth position with their arms over their heads.

Jennifer: Well, first of all, getting back into the theatre, it was like breathing life again. Seeing so many people walk into the theatre, seeing our volunteers and our house managers, they were all sort of starry eyed.

It was such a breath of fresh air, seeing life in the theatre again.

It was also very special because this was the first time many students from across the country were coming to perform in front of a live audience. 

It was amazing the number of students that showed up for the competition. It was a beautiful amount in in the sense that it was controllable and not overwhelming for any of the dancers. YAGP is the largest elite ballet competition for dancers ages nine to nineteen. It is a wonderful competition in the sense that they provide scholarships to young dancers and they make connections to many prestigious schools throughout the country and even internationally.

Color photograph of the YAGP stage as the dancers perform the ensemble piece. They are dressed in black and grey. The four dancers in the middle stand with their arms straight over their head. There is a 3rd Place insignia over the top left of the photo and the bottom reads "The Hanover Conservatory - Parts Per Billion".

Ensemble Piece Wows Judges

Jennifer: We had 12 students from our conservatory who competed as soloists and we had an ensemble group and they competed both in the contemporary category and the classical ballet category. Four of our soloists made the top 12. Our ensemble piece took third place. 

It was a joy to work with my daughter, Sophia Agbay on our ensemble piece. She was such a bright light in this whole entire choreographic process because I know contemporary dance more like modern dance, and she knows contemporary as it is today, living and breathing as a style of dance. It was nice to mix the old and the new. The ensemble is going to the finals that are in Tampa, Florida this year. 

Lisa: What a reward for a lot of hard work and discipline and through a pandemic no less. I’m so touched to hear about your work with Sophia because that is like every parent’s dream, to share a passion and have a way to express it with their child in such a beautiful way. 

Color selfie of Sophia and Jennifer in a vehicle together smiling.

Jennifer: Our ensemble piece started with 10 dancers and by the time we made it to the stage, I would say even five minutes before we performed, we made it down to seven dancers through injury and illness. Those seven kids rallied like nobody’s business because we were the last piece, and we got out there about nine o’clock at night. These kids had to wait from nine o’clock in the morning when the competition started all the way to the evening to perform. We had about five minutes to restructure and talk about how dancers were going to move within the space and with each other because we were down from 10 dancers to seven. 

Those kids went out on that stage and they hit every marker that we needed, they were so in sync and together it brought tears to my eyes. I’m telling you, it’s the conservatory training and education that gives these kids the resources to act fast and think critically. They weren’t nervous, they were focused and wanted to do a wonderful job.

We picked a great piece of music; the group is called Aria and the song is called “Molecule”. We called this piece “Parts Per Billion” and typically parts per billion is related to units of math and chemistry but on another level, the title refers to how we are all part of a billion and we are all part of billions of people in this world. The music was so cool that the judges, every one of them, perked up out of their chair with their head bobbing and tapping feet. It was really a once in a lifetime experience. 

Lisa: We wish them all of the luck possible in Florida. Here’s a very special shout out to these determined focused young women who are just going to rock the world long after they stop dancing on stage because that kind of poise under pressure and problem solving and creativity is what leaders are made of. That is what the performing arts does for people, it gives them the ability to pivot like they did five minutes before going on stage and coming up with third place. That doesn’t come by accident, that comes with a lot of training, it’s training your mind and not just your body. 

Jennifer: There were over 400 entries, it was incredible to see that they were head and shoulders over most of the competition. I want to give a shout out to our conservatory director, Megan Montaner, because without her support, we would not have had this opportunity.