ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET’S EMERGING DANCER: IN CONVERSATION (with a bagel and a Camden Pils)

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 over a bagel and a Camden Pils…

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 will have a glass of wine at the bar!

 

© 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/

 

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