Sadler Wells, London
May 7, 2019
Joy Wang X.Y.
Now in its 10th year, English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer award is more than a competition. It is rather, as Adam Cooper put it in his opening words, “A communal celebration of talent;” a mark of the company’s commitment to nurturing young talent by giving its youngest dancers a chance to punch above their weight; and a stage to try their hand as soloists. Julia Conway took the big prize but the evening is not just a competition, it is a festive celebration of a company as a whole and most especially of its corps de ballet, represented through the Corps de Ballet Award, won this year by Eireen Evrad.
The six dancers each get to dance a pas de deux and a solo. Alice Bellini and Shale Wagman opened the evening with a rendition of Victor Gzovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. With its blend of Parisian charm and patrician virtuosity, it is an ambitious choice. If its classical splendour seemed beyond her technical reach he managed to combine the purring ease of a cat with pantherly grace. Plush pliés gave way to wonderfully light jumps. Though he was slightly undone in the coda, his feeling for the subtleties of style and musical nuance suggests a budding artist.
Bellini came into her own in her contemporary solo. Clan B by Sebastian Klobborg is a fun, slightly zappy spoof on sulphide. This is what a sylphide in boxers and socks might look like and Bellini captures its heady charm.
Wagman’s contemporary choice, Peculiar mind by Sofie Vervaecke, was moodier and darker. It opens with him strutting across the stage in high heels. Offstage, we hear the rhythmic beat of the heels which is then flung on to the stage. It stays there; visible symbol perhaps of the fluid nature of gender binaries and the difficulties of personhood. The piece, with its imagery of a dancer seemingly flinging his body out of himself as if trapped in a personal purgatory, seemed to me an exploration of the complexities of transgressive dualities.
Grand Pas Classique was followed by the pas de deux from Coppélia, danced by Emilia Cadorin and eventual People’s Choice Winner, Rhys Antoni Yeomans. Both seemed a little tentative initially but Yeonans showed off clean lines and a nice, open presence in his solo. He latter reappeared, looking rather transformed, in William Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. Though I wished he pushed it to its daredevilry extremes, it was nevertheless a brave choice.
Up till this point the men seemed more technically assured than the women. But Julia Conway in Flames of Paris changed that. Conway doesn’t have the most expansive lines (there is also a tightness in her upper body that no doubt in time she will lose) but she has the surest technique of the three women. And more importantly, she jumped and twisted her way through the choreography’s complex technical challenges with radiant ease and a hearty sense of courage. It was fearlessness perhaps that won her the competition.
It made sense then that Conway chose Miguel Altunaga Untiled code for her contemporary solo. In the opening part of the solo, she moved to the meter of own breathe as if generating her own time.
Her partner Rentaro Nakaaki matched her courage in Flames of Paris, his slender form torque-ing through the air like a lean rocket. If you want him to shed of the last residues of apprenticeship, to gain a bit more gravitas – he is a bit of a Bambi on steroids – here is, no doubt, a potentially exciting talent. I am not fully convinced however that Nuno Campos’s Own was the best choice for a solo. At moments, it felt like a loose collection of steps given form only by its musical structure. Which is to say it was rather difficult to see the relationship between the music and the dancer.
There was however, in this evening, another important relationship. That between the present and the future. Only the long arch of time will reveal which among these dancers will reach the heights of their profession. Perhaps all of them will make it, perhaps few of them will. These things are hard to tell. But the future, for now, at least looks very bright.
Summing up the evening, artistic director Tamara Rojo said, “They are all winners because they all progressed so much during the process of Emerging Dancer, but I feel what set Julia apart is the security she had on stage. Both in the classical work and the contemporary – she seemed to have a presence beyond her years. The decision from the panel was unanimous, and much deserved – congratulations to Julia.”