English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer award is possibly one of the most unique night’s out of the dance year. There’s certainly an X Factor feel, with nerves in the air, friends and family sitting supportively in the audience and a celebrity host (Natasha Kaplinsky, an ENB board member). Now in its seventh year Emerging Dancer provides lower ranked dancers from the company to shine individually for an evening. The past demonstrates that a strong performance here doesn’t harm these dancer’s careers either: Alison McWhinney, a winner from two years ago was promoted immediately from an Artist to a First Artist and then again to a Soloist.
The six finalists firstly pair up to dance three classical pas de deux. The evening opened with a careful, but still enjoyable interpretation of The Talisman pas de deux from Isabelle Brouwers (unfortunate not to win last year) and Erik Woolhouse. These younger dancer’s were clearly incredibly focussed on landing every pirouette and jump meaning charisma and personality were lacking slightly in what was a pleasant, if not slightly pedestrian opening.
The Black Swan pas de deux that followed from Daniele Silingardi and Jeanette Kakareka certainly couldn’t be accused of such and Kakareka (also a finalist last year who expressed in the preceding video that she felt “strong this year”) demonstrated some explosive attack and the feisty, sass required for the enigmatic role. She evidently took such joy in the repeated rejection of Silingardi’s meek Prince, expressing her disdain right down to the spiky placement of her fingers. Such attitude, add to this a comfortable thirty-two fouettes and an arabesque that appeared to be gifted from God and this reviewer was certainly sold, even Silingardi seemed reduced to a bystander at times.
The evening had now truly warmed up, just in time for the eventual winner, Cesar Corrales, partnered by the company’s youngest dancer, Rina Kanehara, to perform the ever crowd-pleasing the Diana and Acteon pas de deux. Kanehara showed impressive control and composure in her opening solo sections before being joined by Corrales for a masterclass in jumps and leaps. Secure technique and effortless athleticism it was hard to tear one’s eyes from his captivating presence, his feet seemingly in the air more than they were on the stage. It was only a shame that Kanehara’s highly competent showing was somewhat overshadowed by the powerhouse of Corrales.
As per most years, the solo’s proved to be less enjoyable, most choosing to sit in the contemporary genre and opting for dingy lighting and plotless narratives that always leave this reviewer underwhelmed. The pick of the bunch however was a Charlotte Edmonds piece entitled Pelican, performed by Isabelle Brouwers. Brouwers is highly skills in seamlessly linking her movements together and it make for a slinky, smooth showing, contrasted with jerky, contorted movements in a dynamic display that demonstrated great versatility from her earlier fluffy pas de deux.
Predictably, it seemed, Corrales was crowned the winner, not only of the Emerging Dancer award but also The People’s Choice award (an award voted for every year by ENB audiences.) Although not all the dancers were as charismatic in their performances as one would expect, it was heartening to see everyone deliver a sold pas de deux and solo, the nerves of previous years appear to have been banished the evening works as an impressive showcase for what ballet can look forward to in the future.
First published on LondonTheatre1.com