Utah ballet prodigy is first American to win global honor

Published: Sunday, Sept. 7 2008 12:20 a.m. MDT

Grand Prix award winner Whitney Jensen, who was raised in Park City, has been dancing almost as long as she has been able to walk.

Geoffrey McAllister, Deseret News

The Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria has only given out four Special Distinction Grand Prix awards in its 44-year history.

Those winners are Vladimir Vasiliev, Rolondo Sarabia, Ivan Vasilev and Whitney Jensen.

Out of all those, Jensen is the only female and the only dancer from the United States to be awarded that honor, which was presented to her last month.

Jensen was also the sole recipient of the Ballet International Award, for highest achievement in ballet classics.

In addition, Jensen, 16, who resides and trains in New York, was born and raised in Park City.

Her father is attorney Mitch Jensen and her mother, Lausanne, directed Dance Corp Esprit. Her two sisters, Sarah Jayne Jensen and Bryn Dowling, are Broadway veterans.

Entertainment clearly runs in her family.

Jensen and her teacher, former Bolshoi Ballet principal Valentina Kozlova, put together a variety of works for the competition.

"I danced variations from 'Diane and Acteon,' 'Harlequinade,' 'Le Corsaire' and the 'Black Swan,"' Jensen said. "I also danced two contemporary works by Igal Perry and Chantelle Collier, which my sister Bryn helped me restage."

Jensen's goal was to complete the first round and get into the second, she said.

"I really had no expectations, though," she said. "But after the second round things happened so fast. My heart was beating so fast, and when they called my name, I was so overwhelmed and shocked. I couldn't believe that I got it."

With the award, however, came a bit of pressure, she said.

"When I look at the past winners, I know that I have to maintain the quality of dance," she said. "I have to continue to become a better dancer. I know that I have to keep focused and keep my goals intact."

After the competition, Jensen was offered the role of first soloist for the Hungarian National Ballet when she turns 17.

"I still want to live in Europe and dance, but I also want to work with different companies and tour the world.

"I have also thought about choreographing," she said. "It has come up more and more, and I think I would like to begin sometime. And since I have background in jazz and ballet, I believe that I could offer something."

Jensen began dancing almost as soon as she started walking. Jazz, tap and ballet were her foundations. When she was 8, she trained with the renowned Jaqueline Colledge in Orem before being admitted into the Ballet West Academy.

"I began moving towards ballet because I developed a goal to do ballet competitions," Jensen said during an interview at the Deseret News. "I wanted to compete and live in Europe."

A few years ago, Jensen performed as Clara in the "Christmas Spectacular" at the Radio City Music Hall. While in New York, she and her mother searched for a ballet school.

They found Valentina Kozlova's Dance Conservatory in New York, run by Kozlova, a former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer.

"We looked at all the big schools and weren't impressed," Lausanne Jensen said. "But when we met Valentina, I knew she was the one for Whitney."


E-mail: scott@desnews.com

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