BWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET'S EMERGING DANCER 2017 at Sadler's Wells
English National Ballet's Emerging Dancer award is now in it's eighth year and this time was able to reach an even wider audience through a live streaming from Sadler's Wells Theatre which has had 50,000 views to date. Such an addition promoted this annual contest an even bigger opportunity for these young dancers to shine and demonstrate their capabilities in principal roles they have rarely, if ever, had the chance to dance.
Just personally, Emerging Dancer has genuinely become one of my favourite dance events of the year since I first saw it in 2014. Perhaps it's the tension of the competition element, the opportunity for those who usually go appreciated in the corps to shine or the pomp and circumstance of a celebrity host (Arlene Phillips this year) and the three awards presented by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo at the end of the evening. I adore all it stands for, however, this year's award seemed to suffer from a number of clunky production issues and lack of rehearsal time that hindered the enjoyment of the talent on display.
The six competitors were all a joy in behold with charismatic VTs to introduce them and engaging performances in both the classical and contemporary sections.
Both Madison Keesler and Isabelle Brouwers have experience in the competition before and one hoped their diligence and consistency might win the judges over but it wasn't to be with nineteen-year-old Rina Kanehara and Junior Soloist Aitor Arrieta coming out on top. Guilherme Menezes and Emilio Pavan made up the six engaging finalists.
The three classical pas de deux in which the finalists partnered up with each other comprised of two flashy crowd pleasers and one more sedate selection.
Emilio Pavan and Isabelle Brouwers opened the evening confidently with the regal Paquita grand pas. The pair appeared untroubled by the challenge of the choreography and turned in a technically flawless performance, almost clinical. It was not until their solo sections of the pas de deux that they hooked in the audience who lapped up the jetés and endless pirouettes.
Eventual winners Kanehara and Arrieta were similarly impactful with their portrayal of the Esmeralda pas de deux. They were similarly accomplished and captured the bravura of the piece as well as delivering the fiendish balances with finesse.
Keesler and Menezes has a much harder job to sell the more sedate La Sylphide pas de deux, however the two shared a sweet chemistry, Keesler especially, was wonderfully delicate and playful in her characterisation. Menezes was a supportive partner but his evening peaked in the solo section which followed.
The solos were largely more disappointing and represented far less variety and excitement than the pas de deux they proceeded. Although they were technically secure they lacked drama and intent. The shining light among them was Menezes' Flight Mode, a piece performed to the Ryanair Safety Announcement interspersed with that terrible muzak found in stores and lifts. Consistently hysterical, it highlighted Menezes' wit and charisma as a performer but also exceptional timing and boundless agility.
So that concluded the competitive displays. The audience was treated to a showstopping performance from last year's winner Cesar Corrales. His endless power and explosive energy in the Don Quixote pas de deux was thrilling from start to finish.
As ever, Emerging Dancer remains an incredibly exciting spectacle for the audience but this year seemed thwarted by technical glitches and unfortunate error. Host, Arlene Phillips, did not appear well rehearsed and struggled with the pronunciation of the competitors and lacked general knowledge and awareness of the competition.
Perhaps it was the added pressure of the event streaming but lighting transitions and set changes seemed overlong and in addition the curtain fell a minute too early once the winners had been announced causing some unfortunate hilarity.
Let's hope these glitches can be ironed out next year as Tamara Rojo's company are more than worthy of this unique platform to showcase their abundant talent.