Now in its third year, the Emerging Dancer Award was devised by English National Ballet to help recognise and develop the talents of its young, rising stars. This year’s six finalists were short-listed last November, and on Monday night the final was held in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.
The evening was a joyous one with the audience very vocal in their support of the competitors. On the judging panel, Arlene Phillips, formerly of Strictly Come Dancing, commented that although this award drew only from the ranks of English National Ballet, all six performances were all of a world class standard; former Principal Dancer, David Wall clarified things, explaining that they didn’t just want to see exceptional pyrotechnics: a dancer had to reveal something of their soul.
The contest was to prove incredibly tight, with all of the six finalists excelling. In the film that preceded the first of his pieces (each competitor performed two routines), Yonah Acosta described himself as a stage rather than a studio dancer. The nephew of Carlos Acosta may have been being modest, but stage performance certainly seemed to give him a rush; he fed off the audience’s warmth to deliver two pieces that displayed exceptional strength and precision.
Each of the six performers displayed very different characteristics. Barry Drummond had a light athleticism, his body set tight while turning, his limbs splaying in a dramatic fashion. Nancy Osbaldeston performed two disparate but successful routines. The more classical piece of the two, Paquita, was brilliantly rhythmic and although there was one hesitant moment, it was evident that this is a dancer of great potential. Her performance of Sway, self-choreographed, was entirely different, a brilliantly polished piece.
Ksenia Ovsyanick began well with a modern routine, Out of Line, choreographed by Vitaly Satroukine, and then showcased some flamenco moves and pirouettes for Don Quixote. Junor Souza was outstanding despite one mistake at the end of his first piece. The evening’s presenters, BalletBoyz founders William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, were quick to point out that if the performers seemed nervous, it was only because they were taking the competition so seriously. Jia Zhang’s first piece was a seductive and fluid performance of the Black Swan from Act Three of Swan Lake; her second routine, Impressions choreographed by Jeehyae Ham, was arguably the most innovative performance of the evening.
Though Nancy Osbaldeston, Junor Souza and Ksenia Ovsyanick’s work stood out for me, Yonah Acosta was eventually declared the winner. In the short films that accompanied their routines, all the performers made a point of saying that winning was not the be all and end all, and that they had learnt so much from being in the competition, and it does appear as if they all genuinely meant it. As Acosta – who was also awarded The People’s Choice Award based on audience votes over the last six months – made his victory speech, Junor Souza acted as his translator and seemed equally pleased with the result. While Acosta was a worthy winner, one came away from the night feeling privileged to have seen six young dancers of exceptional talent and promise.