Emergence of New Talent in World of Ballet

English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Competition: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 4.3.2013. (JPr)

Alison McWhinney
Guilherme Menezes
Nancy Osbaldeston
Ken Saruhashi
Laurretta Summerscales
Nathan Young

Darcey Bussell CBE,
Tommy Franzén
Luke Jennings
Jude Kelly
Tamara Rojo

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Picture Credit:Patrick Baldwin


The Emerging Dancer Competition is an annual opportunity for English National Ballet to celebrate the phenomenal talent of its up-and-coming dancers. The competition encourages excellence and potential within the Company and during the summer of 2012 ENB’s artistic, music, administrative staff and principal dancers voted for their favourite ‘Emerging Dancer’ and these were shortlisted last November. The competition was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and supported in its fourth year by Talbot Hughes McKillop (THM), the restructuring experts.

Introduced by the ‘original Ballet Boyz’, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, this was an interesting feel-good evening with the audience giving loud vocal support to all involved. This was the first one I have been at and – even though the eventually winner was the one I hoped it would be before I sat down in the Queen Elizabeth Hall – I cannot imagine the jury’s final decision was based solely on their performances we had seen. It would have been useful if ENB’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, when announcing the result, had explained whether this was so and what qualities they were looking out for that had lead them to their decision. The six dancers had been paired up for a duet and then performed a brief solo and each of them seemed to display very different characteristics.

Nancy Osbaldeston sparkled and flashed her eyes appealingly and Ken Saruhashi had a buoyant athleticism during the technically-demanding Don Quixote pas de deux. I suppose one nervy balance was overlooked because the often-raucous recorded music they were dancing to raced ahead and Ms Osbaldeston needed to catch up. (Everyone concerned suffered from this at some point, I wonder whether it would have been fairer to the dancers if they had had piano accompaniment?) Alison McWhinney was slender, long-limbed and ethereal opposite Nathan Young who was rather upright and bland in the lyrical Giselle pas de deux. Laurretta Summerscales was the most classical of the ballerinas – with more than just a hint of Ms Rojo herself – and she was suitably fluid and seductive for the Black Swan pas de deux and Guilherme Menezes danced accurately but revealed little personality.

None of their solos were long enough to really change my opinion of the six finalists. Ken Saruhashi gave a high-spirited performance of Patrice Bart’s Verdiana solo, Nancy Osbaldeston’s Bach Suite No.2 was fleet-footed and high in energy, Nathan Young’s solo from Napoli had the softness and grace Bournoville demands, Alison McWhinney was able to reveal more of her secure technique in a solo from Grand Pas Classique, Guilherme Menezes was happier in the whimsical A Simple Joy (choreographed by Nicky Ellis to more Verdi), and Laurretta Summerscales was eye-catchingly flirty for her Elite Syncopations solo.

The talent of these six is definitely still emerging and none have any real ‘star quality’ at the moment, though all – I suspect or know – are better than we saw here.

There were two awards to present – Emerging Dancerand The People’s Choice. After the interval the judges came on stage and it was possibly clear from the two large bouquets brought on, that ithe winners would be women rather than men. The 2013 Emerging Dancer was announced as Nancy Osbaldeston who is the one I have been impressed with before. I thought she might deserve it as, although not tall, she has a buoyant personality and an engaging wide-eyed naturalness to her dancing that I have always admired in others such as Lesley Collier and Miyako Yoshida. The People’s Choice Award, chosen by audiences over recent months, went to Laurretta Summerscales, who has the more classical ballet dancer’s physique.

I would have given Manchester-born Ms Osbaldeston a special award just for her delightful short film (by Laurent Liotardo) that introduced her before her solo when she said ‘there is no limit to what you can achieve’ and that she dances through all the ‘pain’ and ‘torture’ partly because of the dresses she gets to wear! Most of the other performers talked about having had ‘bad days’ and hinted how their dancing allowed them a release from life realities. To me, that didn’t seem a good enough reason for all the hard work and suffering we are always told ballet involves.

Nevertheless, it was left to Tamara Rojo to restate the aims of English National Ballet and to acknowledge the talent of all those we had seen perform. She said ‘How inspiring it was to see six wonderful dancers, I am so proud, I have never been so proud before. (ENB are) more committed than ever to develop the company further. Our aim is to deliver an ambitious, artistic vision, as well as, to nurture the talent of the future. Our commitment from 62 years ago also continues – to bring the most world-class ballet, at affordable prices, to the widest possible audience.’

While we awaited a decision we saw one of ENB’s current ‘real stars’ when Yonah Acosta, last year’s winner of both awards, danced with the 2011 Emerging Dancer, Shiori Kase, in the Diana and Acteon pas de deux. Kase truly shined but Acosta was still a different class. He radiated charisma, roamed the stage like a panther, displaying to the full his powerful physicality and astonishing elevation. To use a football analogy ENB will soon face a Gareth Bale situation and they should make Yonah an offer he cannot possibly refuse and promote him … or they may risk losing him. As one Acosta (the legendary Carlos) reaches 40, his younger nephew is waiting in the wings!

Jim Pritchard

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