Providing opportunities for young dancers: The Performance Platform

Grand Final, Britten Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London
February 17, 2023

Ballet has always been a competitive industry but we live in a time where opportunities seem scarcer than ever. As funding cuts bite, companies all around the world are having to count the pennies, and count the dancers, more than ever.

Ballet has also long been a global business. Most company rosters have significant numbers of overseas dancers. With a few notable exceptions such as the Paris Opera Ballet School and the School of American Ballet, vocational schools are largely very international too. Overseas students are actively sought out as they look for the best of the best. That so many are taken, especially from the Far East, hints that there may be issues with training at home, or more likely the approach to training, not producing what the schools want. One cannot help but think the extra income they bring plays a role too, however.

Whatever the reasons, getting accepted into one of the vocational schools appears to be becoming harder for home-based dancers. It seems likely that another reason is simply that they are not being seen. The lack of UK dancers at the major international ballet competitions, so often ‘hunting grounds’ for schools, is very noticeable, for example.

Vocational 2 winner Jiah Kwon dances a variation from Esmeralda
Still from film by @gated_community, courtesy The Performance Platform

But there are things than can be done to help. Things like The Performance Platform, a new initiative led by former English National Ballet first soloist, founder of Ballet Boost and the Academy of Ballet Arts, and highly-regarded teacher Emma Northmore.

To be held annually, its aims are simple: to provide talented, young, UK-based dancers opportunities and open doors by giving them the experience of performing and competing at a vocational level on stage. On offer to the winners are bursaries, mentorships, scholarships to summer schools and other intensives, places on courses, and that all-important exposure to top schools in part through the distinguished panel of teachers, school artistic directors and choreographers. And, as the 2023 Grand Final at the Royal Academy of Music’s lovely Britten Theatre showed, there is talent out there.

Following preliminaries in Birmingham, Exeter and London, 64 dancers made it through to London, where they performed in four categories: Pre Vocational (Year 6 and 7), Vocational 1 (Year 8 and 9), Vocational 2 (Year 10 and 11) and Pre-professional (Year 12 and above up to age-19). First, second and third prizes, plus a  were awarded in each, along with

The Vocational 2 and Pre-professional finals made for a grand afternoon, the dancers performing in front of a warm and appreciative audience made of largely of family and friends. Apart from the technique, there was a lot of artistry on show, likely reflecting the focus placed on it during the masterclasses that are part of the two days of both the preliminaries and the finals.

Jiah Kwon dances Esmeralda
Still from film by @gated_community, courtesy The Performance Platform

Each dancer first presented a well-known classical solo chosen from a given list, followed by a maximum two-minute contemporary dance choreographed by the teacher or student themselves. Although the latter could be in any style, and there were one or two quirkier, individual ones, most had a very identifiable classical base.

Most popular of the classical choices was the ‘tambourine variation’ from Esmeralda. It’s easy to see why. It’s powerful music and dynamic choreography really allows the dancer to come at it with attack, which is precisely what deserved Vocational 2 winner Jiah Kwon did right from the off. Really impressive though was the way she made eye contact with the audience, looking directly at us time and again as if emphasising, ‘This is for you.’ Kwon’s later contemporary solo also had bags of character and personality.

First place in the Pre-professional section, was taken by Kazusa Murayoshi who gave a beautifully assured rendition of Aurora’s solo from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty. Apart from the best pointework of the afternoon, I was struck by the delicacy of her arms and épaulement, and, again, the way she made contact with the audience. We are back to artistry.

Kazusa Murayoshi, dances Aurora from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty
Still from film by @gated_community, courtesy The Performance Platform

Dance competitions can be ‘circuses,’ as the artistic director of one top school once put it to me, although he did have one in mind in particular. But I sense The Performance Platform is not and will never be like that. Northmore talks passionately about creating a sense of community; about creating an atmosphere where dancers can learn, can ask questions, can feel they are supported. That will make it an invaluable experience, one that I hope the young dancers take confidence from, and that will have a positive impact on their journey as artists and performers.

Looking ahead, The Performance Platform will be back, with preliminaries starting again in October ahead of the 2024 final.

For more information on The Performance Platform, visit

A selection of some of the solos danced, including Jiah Kwon and Kazusa Murayoshi‘s classical variations can be viewed on The Performance Platform Instagram page, along with a list of all winners.