ENB Emerging Dancer 2020

AMANDA JENNINGS reviews this year's Emerging Dancer in English National Ballet's new home base

English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer event always makes for an interesting evening, with the chance to see corps de ballet dancers, some of whom one will already have spotted standing out in the ranks, in principal roles where they can really show their mettle. As with all competitions, one is sometimes flummoxed by the judges’ choices, but this year their choice must have been unanimous, as the winner gave two flawless performances, in both classical and contemporary pas de deux. The standard overall was high, especially considering the challenges the dancers have faced through having to keep in shape during lockdown with no performance opportunities; last year the gentlemen were stronger than the ladies but this year the ladies stepped up to the plate. A small, socially distanced audience in masks at ENB’s new headquarters replaced the usual packed auditorium at one of London’s major theatres, but those present did their best to cheer and clap as loudly and volubly as they could to create a theatrical atmosphere.

Each couple dances a classical pas de deux and a contemporary one. With the classical work, choice of pas de deux plays a very significant role; these are not (yet) principal dancers, and it’s hard to show yourself at your best if you're feeling daunted by the demands of the piece. Diana and Acteon, with its flashy virtuoso work, isn’t a good choice at this level, and I wondered who was responsible for its selection. Carolyne Galvao has a very strong technique and showed excellent balance and smooth, controlled pirouettes finished in open positions, but there were signs of nerves and she was unable to relax sufficiently to engage with the audience and cameras. She has attractive legs and feet; work to develop stronger turnout will finesse these promising lines. Miguel Angel Maidana is a young man with plenty of talent, but here he looked less than comfortable, and nerves got the better of him a couple of times. He partnered Galvao well. Both looked far more natural in their contemporary piece, both of two………, choreographed by Jeffrey Cirio with impressive flair: there were moments of real choreographic interest here despite the piece being danced in near darkness. Maidana has strong stage presence which came across well.

The pas de deux from Satanella is less demanding, if less exciting choreographically. Emily Suzuki, with her lovely physique and strong jumps, shows a great deal of potential but, again, further work on turnout will help her to sustain correct positioning throughout a classical pas de deux. She and her very strong partner, Victor Prigent, both have a charming stage presence. Prigent danced a beautifully precise and musical solo, adding a nice feel for épaulement and expression that made the technical work gleam. In their contemporary piece, Hollow by Stina Quagebeur, he gave a very strong interpretation that will stand him in good stead in dramatic roles later on.

I was delighted to see The Talisman pas deux; it is long but rewarding, with a good mix of virtuosity and sheer, fluid,

classical choreography. Every time I see it on a programme, I hope for a sensible  sensible reinterpretation of the costume for the man, but I am always disappointed as he emerges from the wings looking like someone who has been dragged through thorns in his pyjamas. William Yamada coped with this disadvantage admirably, showing dignity and sheer pleasure in his work, and he’s a good partner. He is a reliable, capable dancer rather than a starry one, but companies certainly need plenty of those. His partner, Ivana Bueno, is a young woman with a very bright future. Since her earliest years she has been a natural turner, and I have often seen her pull off multiple turns and spectacular fouettés, immaculately placed and calmly finished; the superb training at the Academie Princesse Grace in Monaco added the sheen of style and finesse, and since joining the company she has acquired a delightful poise enhanced by her innate musicality. Lush extensions and smooth, high jumps helped by excellent use of plié leave one in little doubt as to her future as a ballerina. Bueno and Yamada were fortunate to work with Mthuthuzeli November on their contemporary piece, Full-Out; in conversation with host Ore Oduba after the performances, November explained that he had originally planned to make a piece that would be a prayer for planet Earth, but as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic he decided to give the dancers a chance to work “full out” after months of restraint, mentioning the hunger that emanated from both Bueno and Yamada as they worked on the piece. They certainly did dance full out, and November’s choreography, dynamic, punchy, rooted in classical dance (Bueno was on pointe), but with influences from street dance and African heritage movement, was the best of the three contemporary works.

During the judges’ deliberations, Oduba, a charming host, chatted amiably with Quagebeur, November and Sarah Kundi, who had mentored Suzuki and Prigent, and the excellent Gavin Sutherland led the company’s fine orchestra in the adagio from the Corsaire pas de deux. As always, Sutherland had provided tremendous support via tempi to the dancers during their performances, facing the extra challenge of the orchestra’s situation in a room separate from the performance area.

Last year’s winner, Julia Conway, danced the solo from the Esmeralda pas de deux, and Rhys Antoni Yeomans, last year’s winner of the People’s Choice Award, danced a light-hearted solo by Arielle Smith with his customary easy-on-the-eye movement style and bags of engaging personality.

The judging panel, Tamara Rojo, Edward Watson, Natalia Osipova, Kenneth Tindall, Matthew Hart and Kerry Nicholls, gave the award to Ivana Bueno, a most worthy winner. The People’s Choice award went to Victor Prigent, and the award for an outstanding contribution by a corps de ballet member went to Claire Barratt. 

Mentors Kundi, Senri Kou and Pedro Lapetra had all done excellent work. Unfortunately the camera angles were not always very flattering which cannot have pleased the dancers.