ENB Emerging Dancer 2019

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!

References

“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.

ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET’S EMERGING DANCER: IN CONVERSATION

On Monday 11th June ENB’s Emerging Dancer Competition took place for the ninth year.  The six finalists are judged on classical pas de deux and contemporary solos.  Rosie watched the competition live at the Coliseum, while Julia and Libby watched the live stream on YouTube.  Then we all shared our thoughts …

Libby

For me two dancers stood out for their technical ability and artistry in the pas de deux: Daniel McCormick performing Le Corsaire (with Francesca Velicu), and Connie Vowles dancing William Tell (with Giorgio Garrett).

It was interesting that of the three pas de deux two were created by Marius Petipa choreographed at the turn of the 19th-20th century: Le Corsaire (1899), and Harlequinade (1900).  The William Tell pas de deux by August Bournonville was originally choreographed not so much earlier than this, in 1873, but required quite a different style to the Petipa work.  Precious Adams and Fernando Carratalà Coloma created playful Harlequins, although unfortunately neither dancer fully embodied the roles – the movement looked a little studied, as if imposed on them, so it didn’t quite correlate with their personal styles.

Rosie

Yes, I really appreciated the fact that we saw not only a variety of styles from the 19th century, but also pieces that are quite unfamiliar – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen either the Harlequinade or the William Tell pas de deux.  Thankfully it wasn’t like one of those galas where you’re fed Don Quixote, Black Swan and Corsaire pas de deux and then go home reeling from an overindulgence in fouettés!

For me it was a bit of a different experience, because I watched the performance in the theatre.  The two dancers who stood out for me are dancers that I already enjoy watching.  I always notice Francesca in the corps de ballet, no matter the style – whether it be in Akram Khan’s Giselle or Sleeping Beauty.  Although she has a very particular style of her own, that I personally find very harmonious, she adapts to suit the style of the work she is dancing.  I think this is really interesting, because more and more I am finding this to be a trait of the company as a whole.   As far as Francesca is concerned, it was most evident in her performance of the Chosen One in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring performed by ENB last year.  It’s so impressive that in this way she is representative of the company, even though she only joined in 2016.  In Le Corsaire, as well as being very secure in the more obviously technical aspects, like pirouettes à la seconde, fouettés, she individualised her dancing through her phrasing, varying the speed of her movements, lingering in balances, her musicality and expressive use of head; her port de bras is always beautifully held and co-ordinated with the rest of her movement. Her entrance was accompanied by rapt hush in the audience (at least, where I was sitting).

Julia

What I noticed was the attention to detail in the upper body, particularly from Francesca, Daniel and Fernando.  I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Francesca and Fernando as the Bluebird and Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty last Saturday.

Rosie

I was lucky enough to see Fernando as the Messenger of Death in Song of the Earth in January this year, where I noticed his ease of movement.  His youthfulness also seemed to lend poignancy to the role.  Through the pyrotechnics of Harlequin, I saw this same ease – it’s as if he’s doing nothing! And the characterisation was equally engaging. 

Libby

Yes, I can see that, but I enjoyed Daniel’s partnering in Le Corsaire – it was excellent – but when he performed the solo that Rudolf Nureyev made famous in the West after his defection from the Soviet Union, he really came into his own – the energy and height of his leaps, the security, speed and number of turns.  But neither did he lose character at the expense of spectacle, remaining poised and commanding as Conrad the Pirate at all times.  Connie’s performance in William Tell stood out due to her exquisite footwork.  Whilst the characterisation was a little “added on” the technical aspect had mesmerising moments.  You could easily picture her dancing any of Frederick Ashton ballets. 

Rosie

Yes, I can see what you mean about Connie, and in fact Jann Parry describes her as a natural Bournonville dancer, saying “she has the ballon and the neat footwork for the girl’s role, as well as a deceptively modest charm”. 

Julia

I can imagine her as the Katia or Vera in A Month in the Country, or as Lise in La Fille mal gardée.  It always seems to me that there’s a bond between the choreographic styles of Bournonville and Ashton, despite the distance in time and so in influences; it’s that combination of nuanced and intricate movement simultaneously in the torso and lower legs, as well as a particular lively aura.  Although Giorgio Garrett wasn’t as polished or “natural” in the Bournonville choreography, I felt a lovely rapport between the dancers and an effervescence in his personality, which was built upon in his quirky solo Fraudulent Smile created by Ross Freddie Ray.  It made much of his expressive talents – not only did his facial expressions changed dramatically, but even when he had his back turned to the audience, he seemed to be able communicate with us.

Libby

Francesca’s solo, Toccata, choreographed by Nancy Osbaideston, was another work that really felt like it was choreographed with the dancer in mind.  It suited Francesca, whose neat steps and precise movements punctuated the choreography in a harmonious way.

Rosie

So we’re back to harmony again with Francesca …

Libby

We are, although saying that, it didn’t have the visual impact of A Point of Collapse choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November from Ballet Black and performed by Precious.  Unlike in Harlequinade, here Precious fully engaged with every iota of the choreography, like the movement was right in the marrow of her bones.  It was utterly compelling.

Rosie

Yes, looking back over more than a week, it was the most memorable and striking performance.  Precious completely transformed herself from the coquettish Columbine to a distraught human being, conveyed through the use of her whole body: sweeping mournful arcs of motion were contrasted with nervous hand and head gestures, culminating in jerky, convulsive movements.  Jann Parry also noted this transformation, in fact questioning whether this achievement should have singled her out as the winner of the competition. 

Julia

There was support on social media for Precious Adams from professional dancers, for example, Hannah Bateman from Northern Ballet, and from Madison Keesler, who was with ENB until last season.  I particularly enjoyed James Streeter’s interview available on the live stream on YouTube. As a finalist in the competition in 2011, James commented on how dancers support each other as they go through the rehearsal process and preparation for the final performance. I believe this has been nurtured over Tamara Rojo’s directorship in the last few years and this is something that really excites me about ENB.  The finalists are selected by their colleagues and judged by a panel (this year Julio Bocca, Lauren Cuthbertson, Johan Kobborg, Kerry Nicholls and Tamara Rojo).  However, as well as the Emerging Dancer Award, the other awards – Corps de Ballet Award and People’s Choice Award – give dancers the opportunity to receive recognition and an award from members of the company and from the audience.

Rosie

I was so impressed by the progress made by last year’s winners, Aitor Arrieta and Rina Kanehara.  They both danced the Grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty with markedly greater sophistication than their performances in the 2017 competition.  Not only did they complement one another beautifully, but Aitor’s bearing and posture were very regal, and Rina’s port de bras was exquisite.  It seems to me that the dancers really gain from this process and experience.  And this doesn’t only apply to the winners.  Take for example Isabelle Brouwers.  She has been a finalist for the past three years, and like Francesca, she’s very noticeable in a group of dancers, with her striking arabesque, lovely use of the upper back and general radiance.  I’m convinced that she has learnt a lot from this process.

Libby

Next year will be a landmark – the tenth competition!

Rosie

Yes, I am excited! I think we should all go together.  It was a great atmosphere – so positive, with students from the school and members of the company rooting for their role models, their friends and colleagues.

Julia 

Next year we hope to watch the live performance together!

© Julia Delaney, Libby Costello, Rosie Gerhard

References

Parry, Jann “2018 English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Competition – performance and results” http://dancetabs.com/2018/06/2018-english-national-ballet-emerging-dancer-competition-performance-and-results/