Street dancer Max Revell is BBC Young Dancer 2019

Birmingham Hippodrome
May 18, 2019

David Mead

At first stuck for words, 20-year-old Max Revell, said, “I’m completely over the moon. I just really didn’t expect it. It’s been such a humbling experience and everyone involved in the competition was just amazing.” That was his response to being named BBC Young Dancer 2019 at the Grand Final of the competition at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Street dancer Revell was actually the judges’ wild card choice for the final, where he found himself up against the winners of the four semi-finals: Thomas Carsley, 22 (street dance), Chloe Keneally, 18 (ballet), Matthew Rawcliffe, 19 (contemporary), and Shree Savani, 20 (South Asian dance).

For the final, each danced a solo, a duet with a partner of their choice and, finally, a second solo, a new piece commissioned by the BBC and created especially for the dancers by leading choreographers.

Max Revell, delighted after receiving his trophyPhoto Jeff Spicer
Max Revell, delighted after receiving his trophy
Photo Jeff Spicer

The judges were looking for technical skill, creative expression and overall performance. Shobana Jeyasingh said the person that would stand out for her needed to have that magical quality of charisma, which is created by the dancer themselves rather than merely through practice. Wayne McGregor wanted to see his curiosity activated, somebody to surprise him. When it came to the duets, Chitra Sundaram added that it’s not about the choreography (although you can’t take the effect of it out of the equation), but about how the relationship between the couple, the conversation in dance they have.

After the first solo and duets, Revell, a student at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, was surely ahead in most peoples’ minds. In a short film clip, he explained how he liked to play with character and in his first solo, Subject Number 6, choreographed by himself, he did just that. Starting with him being on the telephone, and then backed by a commentary about medical conditions, it was an outward expression of inner feelings.

Better still was his duet, Stranger, danced and co-choreographed with Tom Hughes Lloyd. To Dave Brubeck’s Take Five (not your regular street dance accompaniment) there was some superb interplay as the couple told the story of a stranger trying to take a peek at a book read by someone on a train. Moments of humour too but never forced, instead coming straight out of the scenario.

The other first solos didn’t connect so well, and one certainly sensed that the audience, at least, struggled with the intricacies of bharatanatyam. I’m also not convinced the short Dulcinea Variation from Act III of Don Quixote was a wise choice for Keneally. While very nicely danced, it lacks excitement at the best of times, and is extremely short.

Max Revell in Unstrung by Dickson Mbi,created for the final of BBC Young Dancer 2019Photo Jeff Spicer
Max Revell in Unstrung by Dickson Mbi,
created for the final of BBC Young Dancer 2019
Photo Jeff Spicer

I do wonder if duets put some dance forms at a disadvantage, especially bharatanatyam, which is most commonly a solo form, and largely non-contact when there is another on stage. And with ballet pas de deux, especially those from the classics, one is stuck with the usual male-female roles; and if you are going to do the Don Quixote Act III pas, it needs attitude and fire.

But while Revell may have been in front at that point, he faced a couple of late challenges that muddied the waters. The crossovers between dance forms had already been apparent, especially in contemporary dancer Rawcliffe’s use of hip hop elements. Savani’s solo, Eve Rising, created by Mayuri Boonham of ATMA Dance continued in that vein bringing significant elements from contemporary (for Shree Savani). The blending of styles produced a real gem of a piece that reflected well inner voices and feelings with much reaching out. Savani also had the benefit of a live marimba quartet.

Then came Kenneth Tindall’s Solo for C for Keneally, a very contemporary ballet piece that allowed us to see some real individuality from the young Australian dancer, presently a student at the English National Ballet School, but who will be joining the company for next season. Solo for C got one of the best rounds of applause of the evening and also showed what a cracking choreographic talent Tindall has become.

But Max Revell held them off to become a deserved winner. His final solo, Unstrung, created for him by Dickson Mbi, again saw him bring strong characterisation to his dance. Restrained by strips of elastic bound to his wrists and feet, he was like a puppet, constrained but desperately looking for freedom, which did eventually come.

Emma Gladstone, artistic director of Dance Umbrella and one of the judges summed it up nicely when she said, “This competition is all about performance, and I feel as though Max went on the greatest journey.”

Revell may have taken away the trophy and a £3,000 prize to support and further his dance studies but, in many ways, all the finalists were winners. As category winners, the other four finalists all receive £1,000 towards to support their dance studies, but maybe most importantly, all have got to put themselves in the spotlight, and all have the invaluable experience of having performed in front of a 2,000-strong audience and on television.

The Grand Final of BBC Young Dancer 2019 is available to watch on BBC iPlayer (UK only) until June 17, 2019.