César Morales and Simone Damberg Würtz take the top individual prizes in the 21st National Dance Awards

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s César Morales and Simone Damberg Würtz of Rambert were popular winners of the main Best Dancer across all genres awards at the 21st National Dance Awards (NDA), which were given in a private ceremony streamed online on Sunday June 27 (thoughts of a public streaming were sadly stymied by rights issues). In her acceptance speech, Würtz said how “extra special and extra proud” she was to be the first contemporary dancer to win Best Female Dancer. Elsewhere, winners came from right across the dance spectrum in what was one of the most diverse set of awards in the history of the NDA.

Cathy Marston’s The Cellist for The Royal Ballet picked up three prizes, for Best Classical Choreography and Best Male and Female Classical Performance (Marcelino Sambé and Lauren Cuthbertson). It was announced recently that Marston will be taking over from Christian Spuck as director of Ballett Zürich in the summer of 2022.

Marcelino Sambé and Lauren Cuthbertson
in The Cellist by Cathy Marston
Photo ROH, Bill Cooper

In a first, the Outstanding Company award goes to a company that no longer exists: the Richard Alston Dance Company. One in the eye perhaps for the Arts Council of England, whose funding decision precipitated the company’s closure. Accepting the award, Alston admitted that the past year made him doubtful about whether he would go on. But it can be good to move on, as he said, and thankfully, he’s not hanging his choreographic shoes up, as demonstrated by his recent, delicious, Altogether for the Rambert School.

This year’s ‘lifetime’ award went to Ronald Hynd, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. After training with Marie Rambert and making his performing debut with Ballet Rambert, in 1951, he joined the then Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where he rose to the rank of principal dancer. He went on the choreograph widely. His Coppélia is still in the repertory of English National Ballet, although most of his success came overseas with such as Houston Ballet, PACT Ballet (South Africa), Santiago Ballet in Chile and the Australian Ballet, where his The Merry Widow remains popular.

Thanks to the pandemic, the qualifying period for the Awards was extended by four months, so covering September 2019 to December 2020, rather than the traditional ‘dance year’. To recognise dance’s response to the crisis, there are four new awards.

Best Company Response to the Pandemic went to English National Ballet. It’s initial response of classes livestreamed from Tamara Rojo’s kitchen quickly developed into English National Ballet at home, a subscription digital offering of classes in ballet, contemporary, kathak, flamenco, yoga and more; plus streamings of many productions, including a series of new dance films, which recently became live performances at Sadler’s Wells in the Reunion programme. No doubt the other nominated company directors would echo her sentiment that, “2020 was not the year we imagined but we are proud of what we achieved.”

Best Digital Choreography went to Wim Vandekeybus, whose Draw From Within for Rambert was not only very well received online, but has also recently transferred successfully to the live stage. Best Dance Film went to Scottish Ballet’s The Secret Theatre, while Best Short Dance Film went to Alleyne Dance for (Re)United), which allowed viewers to choose between watching two different perspectives on a narrative.

Rimbaud Patron and Jamiel Laurence
in Scottish Ballet’s The Secret Theatre
Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

Sir Matthew Bourne paid tribute to the many freelancers in dance and elsewhere in theatre who have had very little, if any, work in the past year. “They are the lifeblood of our industry,” he said. The past sixteen months has been very difficult for the many, and more than a few have had difficult decisions to make about their future, he noted.

Introducing the Awards, NDA Chair, Graham Watts, also paid tribute to all those we have lost from dance since the past awards, including Sir Robert Cohan, winner of the De Valois Award in 2012, and Liam Scarlett, nominated six times for the Best Classical Choreography Award and winner in 2010, both of whom died in 2021.

The NDA are voted for by the members of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle, the association representing most of the UK’s professional dance critics.

The winners

Dancing Times Award for Best Male Dancer – César Morales (Birmingham Royal Ballet)

Best Female Dancer (sponsored by Tendu) – Simone Damberg Würtz (Rambert)

Stef Stefanou Award for Outstanding Company – Richard Alston Dance Company

Best Independent Company (sponsored By Marquee TV) – Acosta Danza

Best Classical Choreography (sponsored by The Ballet Association) – Cathy Marston for The Cellist (The Royal Ballet)

Best Modern Choreography (sponsored by Harlequin Floors) – Crystal Pite & Jonathon Young for Revisor (Kidd Pivot)

Best Digital Choreography – Wim Vandekeybus for Draw From Within (Rambert)

Best Dance Film (sponsored by Marquee TV) – Scottish Ballet for The Secret Theatre

Best Short Dance Film (sponsored by Irving & Olga David) – Alleyne Dance for (Re)United (Alleyne Dance)

Outstanding Female Classical Performance (sponsored By Lee Mclernon) – joint winners: Begoña Cao in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (Viviana Durante Company), and Lauren Cuthbertson in The Cellist (The Royal Ballet)

Outstanding Male Classical Performance – Marcelino Sambé as the Instrument in The Cellist (The Royal Ballet)

Outstanding Female Modern Performance – Dada Masilo in the title role in Giselle (Dada Masilo)

Outstanding Male Modern Performance – Jermaine Spivey in Revisor (Kidd Pivot)

Emerging Artist Award (sponsored by The L&M Trust) – Arielle Smith (Choreographer)

Outstanding Creative Contribution – John Macfarlane (artist and designer)

Best Company Response to the Pandemic – English National Ballet

De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement – Ronald Hynd