Even in a purple phase, the show must go on. Well, maybe not must but possibly can.

At least that’s the hope of Youth America Grand Prix, a global network of ballet contests taking small steps to keep young girls pliéing despite the pandemic.

About 150 girls age 9-19 began auditioning Friday for two days at the Ray and Joan Kroc Center in Rolando in hopes of competing in New York City finals – if they take place.

It’s all in the air for the ballet group.

Young ballerinas from San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County leaped into semifinals here. Semifinals began nationally in Philadelphia on Nov. 7. Internationally, Grand Prix semifinals have already occurred in South Korea and Japan.

But the big “if” in ballet competitions, of course, comes from COCID-19.

And San Diego was scheduled to move into the purple, most restrictive, tier at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

That moves the auditioning dancers outdoors Saturday to wait and warm up, according to Cathie Hyatt, theater and events director at the Kroc center.

The slight chance of rain Saturday adds to the obstacles. A 5% chance of rain is forecast — along with mid- to upper 60-degree temperatures — for the morning until 9 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

And a window of sunny weather is projected throughout the day until 4 p.m. when the 5% precipitation chance returns. That sunny window may be their saving grace while they are in their tutus.

“The temperatures, they need to warm up, so keeping them warm enough to dance is a challenge and adding lights outside,” Hyatt said.

Dancers arrive on a staggered schedule, allowing rooms to be sanitized between groups of dancers, she said.

Two other challenges face the girls, Hyatt said.

First is COVID safety.

“The kids love each other and want to hug and socialize. We have to do our best to keep them 6 feet apart,” she said. “That’s the hardest part because you can see how desperately the kids want to connect. And we can’t have that at this time.”

The second challenge during their 2 to 2 1/5-minute pieces is silence.

In red and purple COVID tiers, neither parents nor friends nor neighbors can provide an audience. Just judges.

“I’m sure after each dance the kids would rather hear their parents and neighbors and friends applauding them, and instead it is quiet,” Hyatt said.

A young girl competes at the Ray and Joan Kroc Center in Rolando for a chance at going to New York City in the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition. Photo by Chris Stone

“Normally for something like this, we have a full house of people watching them perform and enjoy all of their hard work, but instead it is all online,” she continued, added that she noted that 250 people watched the live feed on the Grand Prix’s Facebook page.

Elena Balgovick, ballet program director at Danceology Performing Arts Campus in 4S Ranch, said separation between teachers and dancers during the pandemic has been difficult.

Last year’s Grand Pix finals were cancelled in New York in April and then Zoom sessions substituted for studio lessons, she said. In summer, lessons began in person.

Between now and April, semifinals will continue with repeat auditions in San Diego on Feb. 5 and 6 and then again Feb. 25-28.

Other U.S. cities hosting Grand Prix auditions include Seattle, Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. International counterparts include Paris, Riccione (Italy), Tel Aviv, Barcelona and Bucharest.

Dancers compete in different pieces during each audition, and then travel to other competitions, she said.

So the goals for the local dancers is to “perform beautifully with the hope to move on to New York finals,” Balgovick said.

Youth America Grand Prix has offered $4 million in scholarships worldwide over the past 20 years, according to its website. More than 12,000 dance students take part in workshops, auditions and master classes.

More than 450 alumni are now dancing with 80 ballet companies throughout the world including the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, according to the website.

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