Now in its fourth year, the English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer competition celebrates young talent within the company. On the night, the six finalists, Alison McWhinney, Guilherme Menezes, Nancy Osbaldeston, Ken Saruhashi, Laurretta Summerscales and Nathan Young, performed three classical pas de deux, followed by a solo variation each, in front of a panel of judges.
The ENB’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, has cast her net wider than Markova House to find her fellow judges, an this year’s panel included Darcey Bussell, dancer Tommy Franzén, The Observer dance critic Luke Jennings and the Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly.
The event comes soon after ENB’s rebrand – a new logo and website, a marketing campaign (with dancers modelling Vivienne Westwood creations) and, hell, even a Harlem Shake – and is a key part of the company’s commitment to nurture its dancers.
The winner on the evening was Nancy Osbaldeston, who performed the Don Quixote variation alongside Ken Saruhashi with a supreme confidence that belied their age. It’s arguably Osbaldeston’s Kitri that won the prize – her strength and rock-solid balances had the wow factor Don Q demands and she gave an assured interpretation complete with flirty glances. But her solo, to the playful Bach Suite No.2, showed she was capable of a bit of fun too in a cute, flexed-feet variation.
Saruhashi’s showy Don Q coda suggests he would’ve been a worthy winner too, but it was his bordering-on-perfect solo, Verdiana, that showcased his pristine technique. Let’s hope those amazing multiple turns don’t languish in the artist ranks for too long.
The People’s Choice Award went to Laurretta Summerscales. She might have sped her way through the opening steps in the Black Swan solo in the Swan Lake Act III pas de deux, and travelled halfway across the stage with no consideration of the music in the infamous 32 fouettés, but she exuded a pleasingly evil quality and the final moments of the last coda was superb with her elongated arabesques.
Summerscales picked a wise choice for her solo: Kenneth Macmillan’s Elite Syncopations. Eccentric, sexy and comical, she was surprisingly suited to this ragtime role with all its jazzy hip movements and parallel feet.
Her pas de deux partner, Guilherme Menezes, was somewhat overshadowed, and his presence as Siegfried was rarely felt. But his solo was tough – with so much landing on one leg, the slightest lowering of one is painfully apparent. He only came into his own in the final coda – and his pirouettes a la seconde were fantastic.
Menezes chose a love-it-or-hate-it variation for his solo, A Simple Joy. I thought it charming, with all its cartoonish rolling around, but it wasn’t one that showed off his technique.
The remaining two dancers had a hard job to do. And Alison McWhinney and Nathan Young had a tough pas de deux in Giselle, which was arguably harder to “act”, especially taken out of the context of the full ballet. Their partnering needed work – there was little connection between them, and the lifts and landing could do with a smoother transition.
In a series of relevés on one foot during McWhinney’s Grand Pas Classique solo, you could see the concentration on her face. But then, making classical ballet look a breeze is not something that can be learned easily.
Young pumped for a truly classical number for his solo: Bournonville’s Napoli. One can’t help but think he has sold himself short, since Bournonville’s restrained style will find it hard to stand out in more virtuoso showpieces.
The evening was wrapped up, in true beauty pageant style, with an appearance from past winners, with Shiori Kase and Yonah Acosta performing Diana & Acteon. Although this was more Acteon & A Bit Of Diana, since all eyes were firmly on Acosta, whose soaring jumps showed once again that, comparisons to his uncle aside, he’s a tremendously accomplished dancer in his own right.