It seems strange that no one had thought of the Emerging Dancer award until six years ago. Finally there is a chance for dancers hidden away in the corps de ballet to have a chance to shine and perform both a solo and a pas de deux in front of an enthusiastic audience.
It’s a bit like X Factor for ballet in terms of how the evening has the potential to propel the competitor’s careers to the next level. In the same vein, there is a celebrity host in Natasha Kaplinsky and a panel of esteemed judges, all celebrities in the dance world.
English National Ballet has had a stellar year, winning Outstanding Company at the National Dance Awards and with Tamara Rojo’s reign as Artistic Director going from strength to strength, this success is reflected in the choice of eight as opposed to the usual six competitors.
The evening begins with the dancers paired up to perform four pas de deux: Katja Khaniukova and Ken Saruhashi (stepping in for injured James Streeter as a non-competing partner) made a confident opening to the evening dancing Pas d’Esclave from Le Corsaire. Khaniukova was a delight to watch: petite and accurate, she may not command the stage like a leading lady yet but I look forward to seeing her develop; she had her own unique style and it made for engaging viewing. One must applaud her determination in carrying out all the lifts in the piece with a partner she had only been rehearsing with for a matter of days.
Anjuli Hudson is perhaps a name more will recognise having been an artist with ENB since 2007. She was partnered with Vitor Menezes to dance Satanella. Menezes was a finalist in the competition last year and it was pleasing to see his confidence and charisma on the stage that hadn’t come across last year.
The penultimate pas de deux came from Jeanette Kakareka and Max Westwell and sadly I felt this was the least suited partnership of the four. Westwell was the joint ‘highest’ ranked among the dancers competing and it showed, with his powerful and controlled leaps but still managing to appear relaxed and at ease. In contrast Kakareka has only been with the company a short time and will not have had many opportunities like this. She started well, nervous but maintaining poise, but one overbalanced pirouette and she seemed to falter and doubt herself for the rest of the performance sadly. She gave a smile as the pair took their bow that suggested she knew she’d blown her chances.
Isabelle Brouwers and Jinhao Zhang concluded this section with the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote. In an eye-catching red tutu, Brouwers danced beautifully and built up momentum well, subsequently producing the most crowd-pleasing number of the evening. Choreography was delivered passionately by both, equally Zhang exploded around the small Queen Elizabeth stage and had a mightily impressive athleticism to his dancing.
The solos are a far more brief affair, some only lasting around the two minute mark, ashame as some felt like they had finished before they had started without us really learning anything more about the dancer. Stand out solos for me were Katja Khaniukova; out of a tutu she was even more fluid and expressive across the stage – I could have watched her for a long time. Jinhao Zhang’s Dying Swan was a contemporary take on the classic and certainly captured the audience’s imagination if their reaction was anything to go by. Isabelle Brouwers remained consistent with a strong contemporary piece that was neat and technically sound but lacked a wow factor.
Last year’s winners Junor Souza and Alison McWhinney took to the stage as an interlude while the judges deliberated. Perfectly chosen, they performed Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land (from Lest We Forget). The simple piano accompaniment to tell this story of separation between men and women in the First World War is an emotive tour de force. McWhinney cut a solemn and lonely figure of a wife left alone by the destruction of war and the result was breath-taking.
As Tamara Rojo took to the stage to announce the winner she described the evening as her “favourite of the year” and as Jinhao Zhang was triumphant in being crowned Emerging Dancer 2015, the evident joy on both the winners and indeed all of the finalists faces made it easy to see why.
First published on AYoungerTheatre.com