Rina Kanehara and Aitor Arrieta joint-winners of ENB’s Emerging Dancer

Sadler’s Wells, London
May 25, 2017

Maggie Foyer

Dance competitions can be brutal, nail-biting affairs but English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Award has a quite different tenor. Forget Natalie Portman’s Black Swan, in this real-life version the competitors are selected by their colleagues, many of whom filled the auditorium to cheer them on.

This was not just a night of technical wizardry it was a night when artists who live to dance shared their passion with the audience. This year’s event produced joint winners, Rina Kanehara and Aitor Arrieta, who thrilled the audience with a blistering La Esmeralda pas de deux. They aimed high and most of the time achieved their Olympian goals while generously shared their enjoyment of the challenges.

Rina Kanehara Esmeralda pas de deux Photo Laurent Liotardo
Rina Kanehara Esmeralda pas de deux
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Kanehara, a performer of sparkling audacity, was unfazed by the occasional mishap, bourréeing out of a mistimed lift into a nonchalant pirouette of five turns. Arrieta was a fitting partner with a technique of eyewatering clarity, finely proportioned physique and devilish charm. Both are blessed with the instincts of born dancers adjusting to correct every off-balance moment in seconds and rising to each occasion. Kanehara’s easy charm, incredible balance and brilliant turns made the well-worn tambourine solo a delight while Arrieta showed soaring elevation and a jetés manège of arrow precision. Each danced a contemporary solo which proved they were equally at ease working on the floor or fluidly off-centre. Arrieta’s solo, SelF, choreographed by Aleix Mañe to text and music was particularly striking.

The other two couples also prioritised communication while maintaining excellent technique. Isabelle Brouwers and Emilio Pavan brought warmth to the grandeur of the Paquita pas. Brouwers, a strong gracious presence, began her solo with an exhilarating series of jetés while Pavan bounded through his solo with athletic ease.

Aitor Arrieta performing SelF-Photo Laurent Liotardo
Aitor Arrieta performing SelF
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Madison Keeler and Guilherme Menezes contrasted with Bournonville’s La Sylphide, Keeler, a wicked teasing Sylph and Menezes, a charming, naïve James. Menezes finely honed comedy skills came to the fore in his contemporary solo, Flight Mode. Written by Sebastian Kloborg to the Ryanair Safety Announcement, the most unlikely of accompaniments, it was the choreographic success of the evening and one of the most entertaining solos ever.

Last year’s winner, Cesar Corrales, took to the stage with Katja Khaniukova in a show-stopping Don Quixote pas de deux. This young man has the charisma and talent to fill the gap vacated by Carlos Acosta. He brings an engaging personality and matinee idol looks to the role and renews the well-known steps with well-considered detail and fine musical phrasing.  Khaniukova rose to the occasion and together they gave us a joyous celebration of virtuosity.

The Corps de Ballet Award, one of the unique and heart-warming aspects of the event, was awarded to a suitably stunned Sarah Kundi while an equally astounded Georgia Bould won the People’s Choice Award. Video artist, Laurent Liotardo, is another who could be considered for an award for his brilliant camera work that captures both the personality of each dancer and the excitement of dance.

The judging panel who had the very difficult task of choosing the winner was headed by Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo, together with Laura Connor, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Marguerite Porter, Alfreda Thorogood, and Graham Watts.