GradPro Showcase 2024

Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham
May 19, 2024

GradPro, the showcase for recently graduated dancers and those in their graduation year, returned to Elmhurst Ballet School for its 2024 showcase featuring fourteen dancers selected from regional heats in London, Leeds Edinburgh and Birmingham. In front of a warm and supportive audience that included a number of dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet, the showcase followed the now established format of around an hour’s centre classwork, followed by classical, then contemporary solos. It proved a most enjoyable occasion.

Apart from giving hints as to who and what we might look out for later, the classwork invariably reveals aspects of personality and technique that sometimes remain hidden in solos, when dancers understandably select what shows them off to their best. Those who favour bravura invariably catch the eye, but the real ones to look for are those who rather exude a calm mastery of technique. On the down side, there was a surprising, apparent inability to dance some exercises to the music as set, notably in the adage, something teacher Darren Parrish was heard to comment on.

London Ballet Circle Award winner Leo Godfrey
in his choreographed solo, The Swan
Photo Drew Tommins

There were no such problems in their solos however, which produced a string of excellent performances. GradPro is about support and encouragement, but it does have a competitive element. Unlike almost all competitions, there is no list of classical variations from which dancers have to choose, however. Even so, it was a nice surprise to discover everyone had chosen something different, so there was no sitting through endless Auroras or such like. The choreographed solos were notable for just how firmly classically rooted most were.

Julie Bowers, co-creator of GradPro with Brandon Lawrence (who flew in from Zurich specially for the occasion), told the audience that when asked what they would like as prizes, apart from money, the dancers unanimously wanted the opportunity to work with major companies. A few phone calls later and Bowers delivered, the prizes on offer including four placements.

She also noted that all four winners from the first GradPro showcase in 2022 now have full time contracts, with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Cape Town Ballet respectively.

Gail Monahan Award winner Ellyne Knol in her solo from Act 3 of Raymonda
Photo Drew Tommins

The dancers gave the judges (Mark Baldwin, David Bintley, Cynthia Harvey, Gail Monahan and Zenaida Yanowsky) a difficult task although, after two very impressive solos after also looking impressive in class, it was no surprise when Ellyne Knol, presently finishing her studies at The Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, took the top Gail Monahan Award, which included a week’s placement at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Incredibly alluring, she exuded a marvellous aura of calm in her variation from Act 3 of Raymonda. There was not only lots of great technique, including some rock solid balances, but plenty of artistry too, Knol showing lovely use of eyeline, making contact with the audience time and again.

Knol’s second solo, In passing, one of the more contemporary, came with an ominous sounding score. She projected a deep sense of some sort of turmoil going on inside, even if exactly what was left for us to guess, with a hand pulling or pushing a limb a recurring motif.

Ellyne Knol in In passing
Photo Drew Tommins

The London Ballet Circle Award and Northern Ballet placement went to Leo Godfrey (English National Ballet School). His Prince’s solo from Act 2 of The Nutcracker was full of clean turns, excellent jumps and soft landings. Even more impressive was his The Swan. Danced to Saint-Saens familiar The Dying Swan, it was not only beautifully and sensitively danced, it overflowed with feeling.

Unusually, the contemporary solos included a second to the same music. Danced in all black, Le Cygne by Hannah Shutt (Moorland International Ballet Academy), made numerous references to the well-known Fokine version throughout but also saw her often hold one arm behind her back, looking not unlike a broken wing. Shutt, who won The Royal Ballet placement, previously presented a very sunny Queen of the Dryads from Don Quixote.

Sophie Farquhar, winner of the Lee Family International Award
in her Black Swan solo from Act 3 of Swan Lake
Photo Drew Tommons

The Lee Family International Award and Ballett Zürich placement went to Sophie Farquhar (English National Ballet School), who managed to instil lots of character in her Black Swan variation from Swan Lake, not easy out of context. Again, it was good to see lots of eye contact made with the audience. Farquhar second solos, Can you see me? was edgy and sharp.

The final placement, at New Adventures, went to Aimee Williams (Tring Park School), who danced a neat Medora variation from Act 2 of Le Corsaire that included excellent turns, followed by 4D, the only choreographed solo danced barefoot.

Aimee Williams in 4D
Photo Drew Tommons

Elsewhere, a Dansez voucher and coaching sessions were awarded to Caitlin Edgington (graduated from Elmhurst in 2023), who performed a female solo from Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, followed by the very intense Fallout, which made the most of her flexibility.

A bonus for the audience saw 2023 London Ballet Circle Award winner Michael Maple, and 2024 Wix Choreographic Award winner Ariel Hardy perform while the judges deliberated. Maple will be dancing in Swan Lake-in-the-round with English National Ballet in June.

Caitlin Edgington in her solo from Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
Photo Drew Tommons

Away from the showcases, GradPro continues to flourish with other programmes including G2P, a new pre professional course for graduates supported by the Linbury Trust; a week-long pre-professional summer intensive at Birmingham Royal Ballet; and Your Next Step Associates, which will provide full days of pre-professional training in Birmingham and Leeds.