Review: EMERGING DANCER 2024, Sadler's Wells

English National Ballet's annual award returns to Sadler's Wells

By: May. 25, 2024
Review: EMERGING DANCER 2024, Sadler's Wells
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Review: EMERGING DANCER 2024, Sadler's Wells English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer award returned to Sadler’s Wells after a two year absence, with a unique opportunity for the most junior members of the company to shine. With his feet now firmly under the desk, Artistic Director Aaron S. Watkin hosted the evening, the first of his tenure, with six Artists of the company performing a classical and contemporary pas de deux in three assigned pairs. 

Emerging Dancer has a respected history and was first programmed in 2010. Previous winners include some of the most familiar English National Ballet (ENB) names Aitor Arrieta (now Lead Principal), Alison McWhinney (now First Soloist) and Precious Adams (now a Soloist). 

At its core, it’s a chance for these dancers, typically found performing background roles, to take centre stage and show how they can handle a full length pas de deux, or a demanding modern choreography. Those who fare best are the ones who can overcome their nerves and relish the time in the spotlight, and that is certainly true of the evening’s winner, Breanna Foad. Having joined ENB back in 2018, her relative experience compared to most of the other finalists was evident in her assertive and memorable stage presence in both performances. 

Together with her partner, fellow nominee Thiago Pereira, they dazzled in the charismatic Satanella pas de deux, displaying a confidence and rapport that meant the audience knew they were in safe hands. Foad had fast, articulate footwork and a serene upper body, while Pereira partnered her ably, before pulling off an explosive run of jumps and pirouettes in the coda. They were the only couple to fully showcase their artistry on the Sadler’s Wells stage in what made for exciting viewing. 

In the contemporary, Foad was similarly eye-catching, committing bravely to the extreme physical demands of Ching-Ying Chien’s Penrose. The piece built effectively, with a menacing sense of drama, rock solid core strength was required from both with knees and elbows used to balance as one before a more frenzied climax, Foad’s loose, blonde hair and fluid movements proved to be quite captivating.

Their fellow nominees unfortunately did not fare so successfully on the night, but the rapturous ENB packed audience roared in support, carrying them through the nervy moments. Anna-Babette Winkler and Jose María Lorca Menchón’s La Bayadere pas de deux was rather clunky, the pair never able to hit their stride together and the side by side sections exposed flaws. Visibly tense, the shaky supported balances were an anxious watch, however, when focus shifted to the contemporary section, the pair shared a moving connection in Akram Khan’s Dust. This is a work that requires strength as well as storytelling skills and, even though it could be jarring to see just this isolated pas de deux without the full work, they packed a sincere and emotional punch, fully drawing in the audience to this painfully beautiful scene.

Completing the line up, Anna Ciriano and Shunhei Fuchiyama danced the technically gruelling grand pas de deux from Don Quixote. They started well, attacking the choreography with the necessary bravado and exuberance but, in the case of Fuchiyama, this excitement and energy lacked some control, and in the demanding partnering of this pas de deux, it felt too risky and frantic as the number progressed. Ciriano was an elegant, contained Kitri. Small-framed, she lacked a little power in this typically show-stopping number, but remained characterful and expressive throughout. 

Unlike Dust, their contemporary performance Moya, choreographed by ENB dancer Rentaro Nakaaki, did not bring much to the table. Briefer than the other two offerings, the stark white light as they danced in silhouette provided intrigue but the movement did not offer enough opportunity to impress. 

There was a final treat in a performance from 2022 winner Eric Snyder and People’s Choice winner of the same year, Precious Adams. It was an excellent illustration of the journey that Emerging Dancer is the start of with Snyder really owning the stage; sure footed, confident partnering and bags of personality, he deserves the chance to tackle some leading roles soon. 

It’s always a delight to see Precious Adams dance, now a well established Soloist in the company and have danced leading roles in Nutcracker and Cinderella already, her star quality is evident in her dreamy upper body and épaulement. They made a very fine couple. 

Two other awards are distributed aside from the made accolade of Emerging Dancer. The aforementioned People’s Choice as well as the Corps de Ballet award, this year presented to Precious Adams (once again) and Anna-Babette Winkler, respectively. 

Having attended most of these Emerging Dancer awards since it was established, it feels only fair to note that the evening overall lacked cohesion. Mishaps with video footage, the rushed presentation to the awards winners (no speeches permitted, it seemed) and lack of suspense felt rather cold and functional. Aaron S. Watkin clearly cares about his company a great deal but the evening requires a professional compere to lift the sense of occasion. The need to bring the evening to a neat conclusion felt strained and uneasy. Indeed, longer was spent thanking mentors, judges and sponsors than celebrating the night’s winners. No doubt Emerging Dancer is a meaty “extra” to ENB’s exhausting annual programme, it’s a good job the audience was packed with the company’s fellow dancers to provide some much needed warmth and encouragement.

Photo credit: Laurent Liotardo

Emerging Dancer 2024 will be available to stream from English National Ballet's YouTube page from May 30.


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