ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET’S EMERGING DANCER 2022: IN CONVERSATION

At British Ballet Now & Then we have been writing posts on English National Ballet’s annual Emerging Dancer Competition since 2018.  To us it seems a really important event.  So often we have enjoyed watching the contestants participate in the competition and then seen them develop into versatile artists.  Winners that come to mind are Aitor Arieta, Dani Mccormick and Julia Conway.  But even participants who do not win any prize seem to gain from the experience.  One dancer who fits this description and shines in so many roles is Emily Suzuki.  Two years ago in Emerging Dancer she performed the Satanella pas de deux with pristine classical technique, as well as Stina Quagebeur’s moving choreography Hollow.  And she has an extraordinary ability to transform herself to dance with utmost conviction in a whole plethora of works in contrasting styles: The Chosen One in Pina Bausch’s visceral Rite of Spring (1975), the gentle Marie in Creature, (Khan, 2021), the enigmatic aura of William Forsythe’s 2016 Blake Works “The Colour in Anything” and the irrepressible exuberance of the “Ratchuli” in Raymonda (Petipa, 1898/Rojo, 2022).  This year Emily, like Aitor, Dani and Julia, were promoted, and Emily also won Emerging Dancer at the National Dance Awards.  

With the importance of the event in mind, BBNT would like to congratulate all of this year’s six finalists: Matthew Astley, Ashley Coupal, Noam Durand, Chloe Keneally, Eric Snyder and Angela Wood. This year’s winner of the Emerging Dancer Award was Eric Snyder, with Emilia Cadorin as the winner of the Corps de Ballet Award, and Precious Adams winning the People’s Choice Award. 

The programme consisted of three 19th century grands pas de deux (CoppéliaSleeping BeautyPaquita) and three duets created specifically for the competition: NEFES by Ceyda Tanc, Cha Cha and Tiara by Rentaro Nakaaki, and Interlude on the Jubilee Line by Hamish Longley.

Lauren: I am ashamed to say that I have not watched Emerging Dancer before …. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this first experience!

Rosie: Well that’s great to hear.  Usually I watch this event in the theatre, or at least on the livestream, but this year I wasn’t able to do this, so I cheated by checking out who the winner was.  On Instagram there was a short clip of Eric Snyder performing the Prince’s variation from The Sleeping Beauty, and I could immediately see why he had taken the Prize.  Then when I watched the full version it simply reinforced those qualities that I had noted in the extract.  No matter how virtuosic and demanding, every phrase is completed with extraordinary elegance, as if had been no effort, and presented like a gift to the audience with lovely relaxed hands and arms—this is very important to me as a viewer.  

Chloe Keneally and Eric Snyder performing The Sleeping Beauty in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Lauren: And to me, especially for this kind of purely classical role.  What I was also thinking about was that Eric’s style seemed very “English” with his clear lines and understated presentation.  Yet he’s from Arizona, though he did study at English National Ballet School before joining the Company in 2020.  

Rosie: Yes, I know exactly what you mean, and it’s so interesting.  We’ve written before about how versatile ENB dancers are in their ability to embody different styles.  I also noted the detail in his movement and phrasing and his ease of movement in Cha Cha and Tiara, although it was such a completely different style of moving.

Chloe Keneally performing Rentaro Nakaaki’s Cha Cha and Tiara in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Lauren: This was a really fun piece! Chloe Keneally starting the piece, dancing with no music, was extremely engaging and held my attention. I like that the mood of the piece changed once the music started. When Eric came on stage it made me smile. This was such a charismatic performance with excellent use of facial expressions. I think it was his performance in this piece which ultimately won him the competition.

Rosie: I’d already noted Eric in performance, as well as Noam Durand (in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Laid in Earth), Matthew Astley (for example in Stina Quagebeur’s Take Five Blues) and Angela Wood (particularly in Blake Works). However, I wasn’t familiar with Chloe (even though she was Winner of the BBC Young Dancer Competition in 2019), or Ashley Coupal, so this was especially exciting for me. 

Lauren: Chloe and Eric Sleeping Beauty’s pas de deux was my favourite partnering.  Not only were they both very spirited dancers, but they also had great chemistry.  I was really pleased to see that in her review Vera Liber describes them as a “superlative couple”.

Rosie: Sleeping Beauty was a good choice for Chloe too, I feel.  She does have a lovely classical line: no exaggeration—carefully placed arabesques and developpés that create a line through the whole body rather than emphasising the height of the leg (which is something I don’t like in this ballet).  And I noted a gentle lilt in her torso as she danced.  I think the importance of these qualities for Aurora can’t be overemphasised. 

Lauren: Yes, Chloe had a really nice demeanour. I particularly loved her arms—like we were saying before, good port de bras is really important to me, perhaps even my favourite thing about a dancer and something I look for. The feeling in her arms continued right to the ends of her fingertips. 

Matthew Astley performing Paquita in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Rosie: Yes, I agree with you about the placement and energy of Chloe’s port de bras.  And it did mean that she and Eric complemented one another well.   Nevertheless … the couple that for me seemed to have the best rapport were Ashley Coupal and Noam Durand.  This struck me immediately in the Coppélia pas de deux. This may have been because of the nature of Coppélia: it’s less formal than Sleeping Beauty, or even Paquita, even though it depends on the same kind of technique.  I thought the relationship between them was noticeable in obvious ways—such as taking the time for warm smiles and eye contact, the way they visibly paid attention to one another—but also in the ways in which Noam complemented Ashley’s line so well in the adage; and it’s a really challenging adage with its sustained pointework and promenades—they made it look easy. 

Ashley Coupal performing Coppélia in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Lauren: I think line is super important for you, isn’t it? I preferred their performance in the new piece NEFES. They really demonstrated a strong connection here (and I don’t think this was just because they were wearing identical costumes!).  There was all the unison, canon, mirroring, both of them dancing with the same dynamics, so a very different kind of working together from classical supported adage

Noam Durand and Ashley Coupal performing Ceyda Tanc’s NEFES in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Rosie: I found the sensing between them to be almost tangible.  They also looked quite different in this work, which I loved.  Ashley in particular looked almost unrecognisable (in a good way) because of the way she adapted her style.  Very impressive.  I’m looking forward to seeing her in future … But let’s talk about the final couple: Angela Wood and Matthew Astley.  I think that Angela possesses the kind of breadth and grandeur that Paquita requires.  This was also noted by Jim Pritchard in his write-up.

Angela Wood and Matthew Astley performing Paquita in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Lauren: Yes, I agree.  For me Angela has an authoritative stage presence that is impressive and captivating. She was particularly good at movements that required sharp dynamics. However, perhaps there could be more contrast for those movements which would have benefited from a softer quality—this would have given more light and shade to her performance. 

Rosie: In contrast to Angela, Matthew seemed very buoyant—perhaps accentuated by the sense of ease and ballon in his jumps—he looks at home in the air, although I did also note his use of épaulement and use of the back in his variation.  Matthew’s buoyant spirit seemed ideally suited to Interlude on the Jubilee Line, but here I enjoyed seeing a different side to Angela’s dancing: she engaged fully in the playfulness and quirkiness of the choreography.  

Lauren: Interlude on the Jubilee Line was a highlight for me.  I enjoyed the interviews with the choreographers where they spoke about the inspiration or story behind their choreography, but I didn’t need to hear the explanation for this piece, and as a London commuter myself, I really liked the concept of imaging a relationship growing between two people who initially meet on a station platform. I felt the style of this work really suited Angela. As such, I preferred her performance of this to her classical work. I enjoyed Angela and Matthew’s partnership in this—they had great eye contact throughout the piece. 

Rosie: I also thought they both gave the piece a touch of tenderness to reflect the hesitancy of the two characters who have just met … But the highlight of the evening for me was probably Ivana Bueno in Le Corsaire.  She was the winner in 2020, and we commented then on how much she had developed as a dancer since she joined the Company.  I can give no higher praise than to say she reminds me a bit of Tamara Rojo in this role with the general lusciousness of her dancing, her soft port de bras and seamless, silky turns; they both also convey a sense of enjoyment through their dancing in this role.  Ivana was dancing with Victor Prigent who won the People’s Choice Award the same year… I’ve noticed him since then.  He has a warm aura, and I particularly liked him in Creature as Creature’s friend.  It’s a really important role, because there are not many sympathetic roles in that work.    

Victor Prigent and Ivana Bueno performing Le Corsaire in Emerging Dancer 2022 (c) Laurent Liotardo

Lauren: Obviously the Emerging Dancer Competition is primarily about the dancers, but as a first-time viewer, it struck me that it also provides a forum for Company members to explore other talents.  This year, for example Rentaro Nakaaki (who I notice himself competed as a dancer in 2019) choreographed Cha Cha and Tiara for Chloe and Eric, while Fabian Reimair composed the score for NEFES.  I’m looking forward to seeing next year’s competition to see how it compares.  And I’m glad I was able to take part in this conversation and contribute to making a record of Emerging Dancer 2022, as it will be the last competition under Tamara Rojo’s directorship, and we have noticed such a tremendous development in the Company since she took over ten years ago.

Epilogue

As we were completing this post, the news was announced that Tamara Rojo had received an outstanding achievement award for her “ten transformational years as artistic director of the English National Ballet” (Al-Hassan). BBNT would like to congratulate Tamara and thank her for everything she has done for ballet as both dancer and artistic director since she moved to the UK twenty-five years ago.

© British Ballet Now & Then

References

Al-Hassan, Aliya. “Tamara Rojo and James Graham Triumph In Sky Arts South Bank Awards”. Broadway World, 11 July 2022, www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/Tamara-Rojo-and-James-Graham-Triumph-In-Sky-Arts-South-Bank-Awards-20220711.

Liber, Vera. “ENB Emerging Dancer Award 2022”. British Theatre Guide, May 2022, www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/enb-emerging-da-mulryan-centre-20919.

Pritchard, Jim. “How Erik Snyder became the English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2022”. Seen and Heard International, 25 May 2022, seenandheard-international.com/2022/05/how-erik-snyder-became-the-english-national-ballets-emerging-dancer-2022/.