Britain Misses Out at Emerging Dancer Awards

21/05/2014

English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Final: Lyceum Theatre, London, 21.5.2014. (JPr)

L-R) Clement Crisp OBE, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Madison Keesler, Senri Kou, Wayne Sleep OBE, Arlene Phillips CBE, Alison McWhinney, Junor Souza, Tamara Rojo, Deborah Bull CBE, Vitor Menezes & Joan Sebastian Zamora at English National Ballet's Emerging Dancer 2014, at The Lyceum Theatre, London on May 19, 2014. Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

L-R) Clement Crisp OBE, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Madison Keesler, Senri Kou, Wayne Sleep OBE, Arlene Phillips CBE, Alison McWhinney, Junor Souza, Tamara Rojo, Deborah Bull CBE, Vitor Menezes & Joan Sebastian Zamora at English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2014, at The Lyceum Theatre, London on May 19, 2014. Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

Nominees:
Madison Keesler
Senri Kou
Vitor Menezes
Alison McWhinney
Junor Souza
Joan Sebastian Zamora

 

Judges: Deborah Bull CBE, Clement Crisp OBE,Gillian Lynne DBE,Arlene Phillips CBE, Tamara Rojo and Wayne Sleep OBE

 

I do not want to expose myself as a xenophobic balletomane but my only criticism of a splendid evening was that as a celebration of English National Ballet the only British dancers seen were last year’s winners whom we saw give special performances. The finalists in this year’s Emerging Dancer event were from America, Australia, Brazil and Colombia.

It is often rare in these sort of competitions for me to agree with the decision of the judges but the only choice they really had to make was could they choose between Alison McWhinney and Junor Souza as the outright winner. The distinguished panel obviously decided they could not and joint winners were announced; though ENB’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, exclaimed ‘you are all winners to me’ to the other dancers who had taken part. The Emerging Dancers received £2,500 and Junor Souza received another £1,000 because he was acclaimed as the ‘People’s Choice Award’ winner (voted for by ENB’s audiences) with all the others taking part getting £500.

After two wafting, pastoral and lyrical Bournonville duets by their competitors Junor Souza and Alison McWhinney (who had both been previously nominated as ‘Emerging Dancer’) showed they were in a different class within seconds of their showy pas de deux from La Esmeralda that is credited to Jules Perrot but seems all-Petipa to me.

The pas de deux from Bournonville’s La Sylphide and Flower Festival in Genzano are pretty, twee and very stylised in the typical fashion of Denmark’s Royal Ballet in the mid-nineteenth century. They demand excellent control but showcase the male dancers more than the ballerinas (again something very much of its time); yet neither Vitor Menezes (La Sylphide) nor Joan Sebastian Zamora (Flower Festival) looked totally at ease or looked particularly ready (yet) for principal dancer role. Junor Souza does look ready – and he has in fact already danced a number of leading roles – there is a ‘wow factor’ in his dancing that for me Vadim Muntarirov (who has recently left to join the Royal Ballet) rarely achieved. Souza has a fine technique and dances with strength, maturity and élan – and his partnering was impeccable.

Senri Kou danced the otherworldly Sylph role fluidly, sensitively and romantically but the role itself could not compete with Alison McWhinney’s bravura pointe work, balances and pirouettes in the La Esmeralda duet. (The fact she looks like a young Tamara Rojo cannot be a disadvantage either!) Senri Kou always moves with great grace on stage and showed all the strengths of her often ethereal dancing in John Neumeier’s Nocturnes but neither of hers were winning performances. Before each solo there were quaint backstage films introducing the next contestant made by Laurent Liotardo; in hers Senri Kou said ‘When I’m on stage my spirit is somewhere else’ and – I mean this in the best possible sense – this is clear from her dancing. Madison Keesler demanded attention during her mesmeric performance of Liam Scarlett’s Variations on a Theme. In a flowing red dress against a dark background it highlighted her wonderfully expressive arms but Keesler had not been so well served by what she had to do in her Flower Festival pas de deux: her future seems assured in contemporary dance.

Halfway through Junor Souza and Alison McWhinney were already winners fin my estimation, but both made poor choices for their solos regardless of how well they were danced.  McWhinney’s excerpt (I presume) from David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin seemed to end before it had begun and made little impact and although Souza was dancing his own Last Minute – choreographed with the help of fellow ENB dancer James Streeter – this rather trite, light-hearted piece, didn’t really display his great potential to the full. Vitor Menezes opened the solos section with a crowd-pleasing, hip-swivelling, Brazilian number known as Mambo Suite, choreographed by Ana Maria Stekelman and Joan Sebastian Zamora gave a spirited account of the final part of Roland Petit’s familiar L’Arlésienne.

Natasha Kaplinsky is a member of the board of English National Ballet and ably presented the evening and was typically gushing when the dancing ended – ‘Oh my word … I wouldn’t like to be one of the judges.’ Earlier at the opening of what should be an egalitarian affair we had to listen to all the OBEs, CBEs and DBEs of the judging panellists as if any of that was important and it only highlighted that ENB’s dynamic artistic director, Tamara Rojo, has nothing yet … should she be eligible! After the interval while these illustrious judges reached their decision we were reminded of last year’s English (sorry I could not resist that again) winners and there was a jokey solo by the 2013 Emerging Dancer, Nancy Osbaldeston, which she choreographed herself. It was part Shadowland it seemed, as well as, a display of how a female dancer can do anything her male compatriots can. Then there was a pared-down version of Kenneth MacMillan’s bedroom pas de deux from Manon (lacking a desk and bed) by the 2013 People’s Choice winner, Lauretta Summerscales which, together with James Forbat, was danced with confidence and abandon. Just a thought, isn’t Manon overdue for a return to ENB’s repertory?

Finally Tamara Rojo came on stage and paid tribute to Talbot Hughes McKillop the sponsors of the Emerging Dancer competition since 2010 and expressed her delight at how the event is selling out at bigger and bigger venues as the years go by. Last year it was the Queen Elizabeth Hall but this year it was in the subdued – but still ornate – splendour of the Lyceum Theatre that is usually home to The Lion King: it was acting here as a more-than-adequate stand-in for the London Coliseum, ENB’s more regular London venue. Rojo is doing an excellent job and the company’s forthcoming performances there or at the Royal Albert Hall also deserve to be sell-outs. So the tie between Alison McWhinney and Junor Souza was announced, and we heard that Souza had been ‘voted by our loved audience’ as People’s Choice. I doubt, runners-up apart, that anyone was genuinely unhappy with this result.

Jim Pritchard

For more about the English National Ballet’s forthcoming performances www.ballet.org.uk.

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