BWW Review: EMERGING DANCER 2018, London Coliseum
English National Ballet's Emerging Dancer Award is now in its ninth year. It's an invaluable resource to balletomanes and dance critics, allowing the opportunity to focus on the rising stars, to put faces to names and glimpse their vibrant personalities for a unique evening that highlights the depth of talent within the company.
As always, the finalists pair up for a classical pas de deux, followed by the contemporary solos - a section I have always found a little more hit and miss than the show-stopping duets already known to audiences.
Exciting talent Precious Adams opens the evening with Fernando Coloma and the Harlequinade pas de deux - a playful, characterful choice, perhaps chosen due to the success of Adam's performance with the Royal Ballet last year in Macmillan's Elite Syncopations.
Lithe and energetic, Coloma is full of charisma and comic timing as Harlequin, landing the demanding double and triple jump combinations with precision. Adams does her best to be light and skittish in the role of Columbine, but it's not a piece that showcases her to best of her technically assured abilities.
Connie Vowles and Giorgio Garrett are next, donning traditional Swiss costume for the William Tell pas de deux. It's a charming performance full of sweet chemistry, but lacks the impact and wow moments of their fellow competitors.
Vowles has beautiful musicality, and together the pair seem wonderfully at ease on the vast Coliseum stage. The detail in their performance stretches even to the curtain call, where Vowles stubbornly points to her cheek - which Garrett duly plants a kiss on.
This genteel display is in stark contrast to the powerhouse pairing of Francesca Velicu and Daniel McCormick with the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, a piece more familiar to followers of ENB, having featured in their repertoire relatively recently.
Velicu - in the distinctive tutu of Medora, exposing the ballerina's torso, with the bejewelled decolletage - is joined by a bare-chested McCormick; together, this pair certainly leave nothing in the locker, and the audience are quick to show their appreciation.
McCormick demonstrates impressive strength in the presage lifts, ably demonstrating the trusting partnership the two share. They negotiate their way impressively through Petipa's choreography, but it's the variations that really dazzle. McCormick achieves jaw-dropping height in his leaps and jetés, and showcases a variety of pirouettes and turns as fast and smooth as if he were on ice skates.
Velicu matches him step for step in difficulty, never losing core strength in the tricky, slow pirouettes of her variation. In one unfortunate moment, McCormick overcooks a jeté and takes a fall, but gutsily continues - to the rapturous applause of the audience.
It's then onto the less enthralling contemporary solos. As much as every competitor dances the material they are given with care and commitment, they are not wholly distinctive from each other, with many suffering from dingy lighting and tension-filled soundtracks.
Precious Adams performs a powerful piece, A Point of Collapse, from Ballet Black dancer Mthuthuzeli November. It's a physical draining work that demands every sinew of her expressive body to convey the pulsating unease and tightness of the musical accompaniment.
Another notable addition to this section was from Giorgio Garrett in Fraudulent Smile. This was a more unique arrangement inspired by the era of white-faced mimes in which Garrett takes on a conflicted persona, swaggering about the stage flicking from an inane grin to visible turmoil as his character battles with his split personality.
These worthy efforts were not enough to overcome the tour de force of McCormick's pas de deux and solo entries, however, and he was named the 2018 winner by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. (She was joined in making her decision by an esteemed panel of judges, comprised of Johan Kobborg, Lauren Cuthbertson, Kerry Nicholls and Julio Bocca.)
The Emerging Dancer Award offers a wonderful chance to see these young dancers attack a full pas de deux - normally only performed by Principals - fearlessly and wholeheartedly. There is nothing to lose, only respect to be gained, and the support from the audience makes for a spirited and atmospheric event to be savoured.
The Emerging Dancer Award took place on 11 June at the London Coliseum
Image credit: Laurent Liotardo