Last week Julia and Rosie went to watch English National Ballet’s tenth Emerging Dancer Competition. Later in the week we talked about the role and impact of the competition, as well as discussing the actual performances. Here’s how our conversation went …
Rosie: This is the third year running that I’ve seen the competition, and what I’ve started noticing is how much the dancers develop through the process of investing in the preparations for the competition and the performance itself. You see them blossoming almost in front of you.
Julia: Yes, I’ve noticed this especially with Julia Conway, so I was really excited for her when she won. When we’ve seen her in class she’s always worked in such a focussed way and seemed so eager to take on feedback. She seems to shine on the stage, but nothing quite prepared me for her bravura attack in the Flames of Paris pas de deux.
Rosie: You could sense the confidence from both her and her partner Rentaro Nakaaki the moment they took to the stage. They blazed their way through the duet, and although their virtuosity was plain to see, it wasn’t in any way brash, as virtuosity can sometimes be. In this way Julia reminded me a bit of Katja Khaniukova. I saw Katja a few weeks ago at the Against the Stream gala tossing off scores of fouettés apparently with the greatest of ease, and with lovely elegant phrasing.
Julia: Julia’s coach Pedro Lapetra talks about how responsive and bright she is in their coaching sessions (“Coaching our Emerging Dancers”). I think it’s great that the dancers are coached by their peers.
Rosie: It does show what a significant role the competition plays in the development of the company: as well as nurturing young dancers, it helps to secure coaches for the future; and as we know, teaching brings greater understanding to the teacher as well as to the student.
Julia: And I noticed Fabian Reimair also choreographed and wrote the music for Emilia Cadorin’s solo. It’s a whole company enterprise.
Rosie: It’s a win-win!
Julia: Talking of winning, I was so impressed by the video of Daniel McCormick who was last’s year’s winner. He was talking about how he felt a sense of responsibility after winning the competition – he wanted to be sure that people would understand why he had been selected and would agree that he had deserved to win.
Rosie: Yes, I found that quite poignant. His partner Francesca Velicu was also quite spectacular in their Corsaire pas de deux last year. It’s fantastic that we get to see the previous year’s winner perform a pas de deux. For instance, this year Daniel and Francesca danced Don Quixote, and not only did he look marvellously self-assured in his dancing and his (sometimes daring!) partnering, but his épaulement was gorgeous, and he radiated character.
Julia: We saw Daniel as Lescaut in Manon, remember. The dancer has to have a lot of stage presence for that role, as well as really articulate technique and acting ability, because he starts off the whole ballet alone on the stage. He really held my attention from the start. The critics Maggie Foyer and Margaret Willis both noted these features of his performance.
Rosie: One of the dancers who played Lescaut’s Mistress was Rina Kanahera who won Emerging Dancer two years ago. I wouldn’t have thought that she would be such fun to watch in this role, although I wasn’t surprised at how musical she was, how she played around with the phrasing. I had already noticed a difference between the technical brilliance of her Esmeralda in 2017 when she was competing, and her regal but warm presence and lush, elegant port de bras in the Aurora Grand pas de deux that closed the evening in 2018.
Julia: The name Esmeralda makes be think about how the dancers often get the opportunity to perform pieces beyond ENB’s regular repertoire. Of course this is great for the dancers to challenge their technique and for the audience, because we get to see things that we don’t often get the chance to see, but it also brings out different qualities in the dancers. Alice Bellini and Shale Wagman opened the evening this year with Victor Gsovksy’s Grand pas Classique. We’re already familiar with Shale’s accomplished technique from performances, class, and the recording of his winning variation at last year’s Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition, but Grand pas classique includes that ferociously demanding variation for the ballerina with the diagonal of slow ballonnés and pirouettes sur pointe all on one leg. Alice had to be majestic and poised for this, but then her contemporary solo Clan B by Sebastian Klobborg was a quirky take on La Sylphide using music from the Løvenskiold score.
Rosie: She really showed versatility – the combination of gestures from La Sylphide like the fluttering hands and the signature Sylphide pose with angular, grounded and much more corporeal movement was very funny, and I thought Alice brought it off a treat.
Julia: The costume contributed to the humour as well, with her long socks, checked shorts and a sylph headdress. I loved the way Vera Liber described the performance: “Full of vigour and fighting fit, she seems to have taken over James’ human body”.
Rosie: “Full of vigour and fighting fit” is hardly what you have in mind when you picture a sylph! Graham Watts noticed this about Emilia Cadorin too – that she looked completely different in BAM!, the solo created for her; it seemed to suit her really well. And in fact I think it can be said of all the solos that there is a great contrast between them and the classical pas de deux.
Julia: Yes, although perhaps the choices that showed the least contrast were Coppélia and William Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. Even though that sounds a bit crazy because musically and visually they’re so different, Rhys Antoni Yeomans got to perform bravura leaps and spins in both of them, whereas the other contemporary pieces were based more on characterisation and mood, and if they were virtuosic, the use of the body was quite different.
Rosie: When I was watching Rentaro performing Own by Nuno Campos, I couldn’t help admiring the fluency and articulation of his torso and thinking of Hilarion in Akram Khan’s Giselle.
Julia: We could cast it with recent Emerging Dancer finalists and winners: maybe Francesca as Giselle and Aitor Arrieta as Albrecht (Aitor was joint winner with Rina two years ago) …
Rosie: … and Isabelle Brouwers has already performed Myrthe – I’m hoping we’ll get to see her this autumn. She was fabulous as the Queen in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage – chilling and imperious.
Julia: But going back to In the Middle, I’d like to see more of the contemporary solos for the competition taken from established choreographers like Forsythe.
Rosie: I’m torn, because it’s an opportunity to see work specifically capitalising on the dancers’ talents, but Graham Watts suggests that time and resources may be limited, so that the new pieces don’t always serve the dancers as well as they might.
Julia: I think the main thing for me this year was that the dancer we were rooting for gave such wonderful performances and was the winner. She was so characterful in Untiled Code (by Miguel Altunaga), as well as obviously giving a joyous rendition of Jeanne in Flames of Paris. I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops and which major roles she’ll take on in the coming years – maybe Aurora or Giselle…
Rosie: As you know, I’ve been interested in Julia (Conway) since she joined ENB, because she studied with one of my ballet teachers, Olga Semenova, who herself studied at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Saint Petersburg. Taking class with Olga has had a huge impact on what I appreciate in dancers. For example, Olga herself, Zhanna Ayupova (current Artistic Director of Vaganova) and Tamara Rojo all have exquisite necklines – it’s not all about the legs and feet!!!
Julia: You know that next year the competition will be in its second decade?
Rosie: In that case we should do a Now & Then post instead of an In Conversation.
Julia: We could do a Spotlight on one of the previous finalists during the run-up to increase the anticipation.
Rosie: Let’s do it!
“Coaching our Emerging Dancers”. YouTube, uploaded by English National Ballet, 7 May 2019, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygnp_QmH8uY. Accessed 16 May 2019.
Foyer, Maggie. “English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer Award”. Critical Dance, 7 May 2019, http://www.criticaldance.org/english-national-ballet-emerging-dancer-award/. Accessed 16 May 2019.
Liber, Vera. “ENB Emerging Dancer 2019”. British Theatre Guide, 7May 2019, http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/enb-emerging-da-sadler-s-wells-17540. Accessed 16 May 2019.
Watts, Graham. “English National Ballet – Emerging Dancer Competition 2019 – London”. Dance Tabs, 9 May 2019, www. dancetabs.com/2019/05/ english- national-ballet-emerging-dancer-competition-2019-london/. Accessed 16 May 2019.
Willis, Margaret. “A Fine Company Achievement: English National Ballet’s Manon”. Bachtrack, 18 Jan. 2019, http://www.bachtrack.com/review-manon-dronina- hernandez-macmillan-english-national-ballet-london-january-2019. Accessed 16 May 2019.