Southern California dancer Aviva Gelfer-Mundl is an up-and-coming star. In addition to being awarded first place among senior women in the classical category during the Youth America Grand Prix 2018 Paris Semi-Final, the 16-year-old recently competed in the 46th Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and was one of only eight dancers from around the world to be named a Prize Winner.
Currently, Gelfer-Mundl is also one of 113 semifinalists for The Music Center’s annual Spotlight program in Los Angeles. This free nationally-acclaimed scholarship and arts training program for teens is now celebrating its 30th year, with it awarding more than $100,000 in cash scholarships. The semifinalists were selected from more than 1,450 participating students by professional judges. If selected to further advance, Gelfer-Mundl will be one of 14 Grand Prize Finalists who will perform at The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in the Spotlight Grand Finale Performance on June 5, 2018.
With all these awards and recognitions, Gelfer-Mundl is already a formidable artist, even if she is still somewhat new to the dance scene. Hear more from this incredible talent in this interview as she shares her brilliant dance journey.
Congratulations, Aviva! Can you share what it felt like when they announced you as a winner?
“Thank you. To be one of the 46th Prix de Lausanne Prize winners feels absolutely surreal; it was truly a dream come true! To receive the award was completely unexpected. When I heard my name announced on stage, I stood for a second, in shock, trying to comprehend that what I had worked so long and hard for was really happening. I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me achieve this dream.”
Unlike many of the other contestants, you haven’t been dancing since you were two or three. You actually started out as a rhythmic gymnast. When did you exchange rhythmic gymnastics for ballet? And how did your background help you excel in ballet?
“I made the transition to ballet when I was 10 years old after winning Athlete of the Year and Regional Champion in level 7, and winning the Junior Olympics in level 5. Although the switch from apparatuses to pointe shoes was not easy, there were certain elements which truly helped.
The charisma and expression required on the gymnastics floor helped me feel more confident on stage. In rhythmic gymnastics, it is essential to have strong muscles and be able to do tricks, thus allowing me to do harder steps early on and begin pointe work only a few months later.”
Who have you been training with over the last six years?
“I started ballet under the instruction of Dmitri and Jennifer Kulev of Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy. After two-and-a-half years, I chose to leave home and train at a professional ballet school. For the next two-and-a-half years, I trained at Canada’s National Ballet School under Artistic Director and CEO Mavis Staines. I left NBS in August of 2016, and am currently working with Alla Khaniashvili, Nazgul Ryskulova Shinn, Tatiana Kasatsky of V&T Classical Ballet and Dance Academy, and Marat Daukayev of Marat Daukayev Ballet Academy.”
At the Prix, you performed two variations – one classical and one contemporary. Can you tell us a little about each piece?
“My classical was the First Girl’s Variation from Paquita’s Pas de Trois, Act I, and my contemporary piece was Touch, Feel, Sense by Louise Deleur to the music by Hans Zimmer. In my classical, I aimed to be a flirtatious Spanish girl seeking to impress her male colleague by being fluid with my upper body but sharp and precise with my legs. In my contemporary, I hoped to depict what I felt was the choreographer’s portrayal of the post-Watergate television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon. There was the initial search for a confession, then came a dangling of information and confusion, followed by the extraction of an apology through a sequence of incisive questions or carefully placed silences.”
In reflection, what was your favorite part of the Prix?
“My favorite part of the Prix was working with the world-renowned teachers and choreographers, meeting new friends and being in an environment filled with incredible talent.”
Where will the scholarship you’ve been awarded take you? Why did you choose this school to further your training?
“With the scholarship I received in Lausanne, sponsored by the Fondation Albert Amon, I will attend the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. Attending the Academy has been a dream of mine since starting ballet; it feels surreal knowing that it is coming true. I love working under the Russian/Vaganova method, and I cannot wait to explore the historical and culturally rich city of St. Petersburg.”
At 16, you are realistically only a couple years away from dancing professionally. If you could dance anywhere in the world, what companies would be your top three choices?
“There are so many wonderful companies out there, and I would be blessed to dance at any of them, but if I could choose: Mariinsky Ballet Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet, Paris Opera… Oops, that’s four – can I do four?”
What choreographer is on your ‘dance bucket list’ to work with someday?
“It would be an absolute dream to work with Wayne McGregor or William Forsythe. I would also love to work with Ms. Deleur again, as well as other choreographers in Lausanne. I very much enjoyed watching the different contemporary pieces there; I wish I could try them all.”
Lastly, do you have any advice for other budding ballerinas who dream of one day going to the Prix?
“Enjoy every moment, soak in every correction and stay humble. The Prix de Lausanne is an amazing time to meet new people, create friendships and really see firsthand the most talented dancers from around the world. It was such a privilege to dance in that environment.
The experience was truly impeccable; you leave a completely different dancer both physically and mentally, and for that I am truly, truly grateful to everyone for allowing me this opportunity.”
Follow Aviva Gelfer-Mundl’s journey to St. Petersburg on Instagram @avivagelfermundl.
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.