America’s Prix de Lausanne Prince

By Deborah Searle

On February 6 the 2011 Prix de Lausanne culminated in a dazzling final where 20 finalists competed and eight were awarded prizes, from over 200 candidates from all over the world. This year young performer Derrin “Harper” Watters of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy was chosen as a prize winner by the tough jury of international dance VIPs. Celebrating its 39th year the Prix de Lausanne is a prestigious international competition for dancers aged 15 to 18 with a long history of career success for its young prize winners.

Tell us about your Prix de Lausanne experience
It was for sure an experience I will never forget. It was an amazing opportunity to travel and dance with dancers from all over the world, and I learnt to trust myself and my teachers. It was an eye opening experience to compete. I credit my teachers for jump starting my career there – an opportunity that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Did you expect to have such success?
Going in we were told to not have any expectations, but to just enjoy it and perform. It was hard for me because for the last two years someone from here (Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy) has placed, and it was in the back of my mind the whole time. But at the end I just had to trust myself and my teachers—and it worked!

My prizes were 6th place overall, for which I got an apprenticeship contract, and I won the contemporary prize for my solo.

How did you train for the competition?
I rehearsed everyday with my teachers Claudio Muñoz and Andrew Murphy. We had different rehearsals to go over artistry, work on stamina, and technique. Sometimes we would run the variation once, and then talk through the steps to make sure they were clean and had the proper technique. Other times we just ran it six times nonstop. I definitely credit the coaches for my success, but yes, training was intense.

What is your dance background?
I’ve been dancing since I was five years old, and I’ve been dancing ballet since I was 11. I came from a small local studio in my hometown of New Hampshire, and was there for 2 years. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to keep dancing but I wasn’t sure if I wanted it as a career. So I enrolled in Walnut Hills Performing Arts High School where I could both dance and study simultaneously. After some time there I decided dance was definitely something I wanted to pursue as a career. Luckily I attended a summer program here at Houston Ballet, and subsequently got offered to be in Houston Ballet II, and then I’ll be entering the company next season! Coming to Houston Ballet II was definitely the best decision I ever made.

Sareen Tchekmedyian and Harper Watters

Why did you choose to dance with the Houston Ballet as your prize over international opportunities?
My prize was to be an apprentice for a company, which is to be with them at their lowest level. I had had some experience with the company while in Houston Ballet II, so I was already very comfortable with the teachers, and had worked extensively with the main company. I felt comfortable here. I knew how they worked, and they knew me (my strengths and my weaknesses). I respected their direction and repertoire. For my first experience in a professional company, I just wanted to feel comfortable.

What are your goals for the future? Where will we see you next?
My goal is to dance as much as possible. I don’t have specific aspirations to become a principal dancer, or to dance any particular leads, but my aspiration is to dance as much variety with as many different choreographers as possible. I want to choose when to stop dancing, as opposed to the opposite. Hopefully you’ll see me here! If not I’ll for sure still be dancing—it will always be a part of my life.

What is your advice for the 2012 Prix de Lausanne competitors?
Before the competition: To constantly work hard and to listen and trust your coaches.
During the competition: To fully open your mind to enjoy the experience! Trust in your hard work and perform.

What I learnt is that when you step onstage, don’t think about the steps, but think about the artistry and the performance. You perform your best when you enjoy what you’re doing.

Photos: Amitava Sarkar

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