Rina Kanehara and Aitor Arrieta are Deserved Joint Winners of ENB’s 2017 Emerging Dancer Competition

United KingdomUnited Kingdom English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2017: Nominated dancers, English National Ballet Philharmonic / Gavin Sutherland (conductor). Sadler’s Wells, London, 25.5.2017. (JPr)

Rina Kanehara & Aitor Arrieta dance Perrot’s Esmeralda pas de deux (c) Laurent Liotardo


Aitor Arrieta, Isabelle Brouwers, Rina Kanehara, Madison Keesler, Guilherme Menezes and Emilio Pavan


Laura Connor, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Marguerite Porter, Tamara Rojo, Alfreda Thorogood and Graham Watts

This annual competition is now in its eighth year and allows English National Ballet to recognise and nurture its talent in order to encourage excellence in the company. The nominated dancers perform a pas de deux and a solo in front of a panel of eminent judges and at the end of the evening the awards are announced. These are the Corps de Ballet Award (introduced last year for someone in the Company who has gone beyond the call of duty), the People’s Choice Award (voted for by members of the public during each season) and the Emerging Dancer.

Last year’s winner of the People’s Choice Award and the Emerging Dancer Award, Cesar Corrales, has been subsequently promoted to First Soloist and his career seems to be on an upward trajectory after a season of impressive performances. He performed along with Katja Khaniukova (2015 Emerging Dancer finalist) the pas de deux from Don Quixote and – to be honest – the dancing from both of them was a drama of interaction, sublime technique and pure movement at its finest.  I doubt whether both could do that night after night, but as a one-off it was one of finest performance of this pas de deux I have ever seen. Corrales – like the very best – compels your eyes stay on him when he is dancing and his jet-propelled jumps saw him soar high above the stage. Khaniukova’s fouettés seemed jet-propelled and her coquettish dance with a fan established her as a ballerina with a winning stage presence.

After all the fine performances Arlene Phillips introduced English National Ballet’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, as ‘the woman who made all of this possible’ …and I couldn’t agree more. Rojo said: ‘I hope you all agree with me these are extraordinary artists and it is a pleasure to be able to share them all with you tonight. We in English National Ballet are absolutely committed to nurturing the artists in the company and hopefully to create the artists and stars of the future. And this process – the Emerging Dancer – is a very important part of the commitment. We are also committed to our original vision; we want to bring the best world-class ballet to the widest possible audience, wherever they are and whatever their means … We are able to do so thanks to you our faithful audience that continues to support us on this journey.’

Can I raise the issue (again) about the lack of British dancers in the competition final of English National Ballet? Moving on quickly, it is often rare in these type of competitions for me to agree with the decision of the judges. I suspect this year the only choice they really had to make was whether they would announce an outright winner, or joint winners (as in 2014) which is what they did once again. That my wife, who was with me, predicted the winners says much about my judgement! It was the three pas de deux that were more significant for me than the eclectic mix of solos; no doubt the contemporary solos had more sway with the judges.

Isabelle Brouwers and Emilio Pavan ‘drew the short straw’ and went first in the grand pas from Petipa’s Paquita. I suspect they will both have danced it better in rehearsals. It was, for me, all rather tentative and there were small issues about balance, pointe work and pirouettes. Much better, for me, were Madison Keesler and Guilherme Menezes in Bournonville’s La Sylphide pas de deux (ENB will soon be touring this ballet click here). I saw much more chemistry between this pair and it was lifted, light and airy in the Bournonville style. Concluding the ‘classical’ part of the event Rina Kanehara and Aitor Arrieta performed Perrot’s Esmeralda pas de deux in sparkly turquoise costumes. I found Arrieta – despite his obvious athleticism – rather bland, but Kanehara’s technique was brilliant and she made much of her tambourine-hitting gypsy role.

Once again, these performances benefitted from amplified live music played by (I suspect) a reduced English National Ballet Philharmonic – under the always capable baton of Gavin Sutherland. This has the advantage of allowing the musicians to breathe together whenever possible with the dancers during the classical pieces so that they are not racing to keep up with recorded music.

There were some – more than usually – compelling moments during the contemporary solos despite a sense of sameness from familiar tropes of twisty, sliding footwork, voluptuous arms movement, staccato, disjunctive phrases and gymnastic stunts. Costuming was mainly rather dingily-coloured variants on rehearsal clothing apart from Guilherme Menezes in an air steward’s uniform(!), Madison Kessler wearing ballet’s equivalent of the ‘little black dress’ and Aitor Arrieta’s raincoat and patterned shirt. The music often had an insistent beat whether it was drumming for Isabelle Brouwers and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s a Drift, or the Einaudi-like piano repeating rhythms of Dustin O’Halloran’s music accompanying Myles Thatcher’s more languid and lyrical We Move Lightly for Madison Kessler. Rina Kanehara danced Raimondo Rebeck’s Blind Dreams to The Poet Acts from The Hours which was distinctively by Philip Glass. Emilio Pavan became visible in a pool of light (he was ‘emerging’ you might say) to a Depeche Mode track (Heaven) for Kirill Burlov’s Proprioception. Guilherme Menezes nearly brought the house dawn with Sebastian Kloberg’s highly amusing Flight Mode. Menezes’s personality shone out as an exasperated member of cabin crew ‘illustrating’ the Ryanair safety announcement intoned by ENB’s music director Gavin Sutherland. Finally, Aitor Arrieta showed his immense potential in his compatriot Aleix Mañé’s SelF which after a slow build up through a reading from Benedict Cumberbatch, followed by Max Richter’s Hospital, it reaches its physical zenith with expressive gestures and movements for Karl Jenkins’s Palladio. At this point with his shirt flying there was a hint of Nureyev …and no praise could be higher.

Winners,Performers, Judges, Tamara Rojo and Arlene Phillips
(c) Laurent Liotardo

And the result: Sarah Kundi was named as the recipient of the Corps de Ballet Award, acknowledging her exceptional work on and off-stage over the last year, whilst Georgia Bould was awarded the People’s Choice Award. The joint winners of the 2017 Emerging Dancer Award were Rina Kanehara and Aitor Arrieta.

Jim Pritchard

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