English National Ballet Emerging Dancer:  Monday 5 March 2012

If you saw Strictly Gershwin at the New Theatre in the autumn, you may have voted for the “People’s Choice Award”, which was presented at the end of the ENB Emerging Dancer competition at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday night.

The winner of both awards was Yonah Acosta.  It was almost inevitable:  he took the audience’s breath away with solos from Diana and Actaeon and Don Quixote.  Both performances were charismatic and courageous, but I thought he chose two variations that allowed him to display similar qualities of daring, elevation and spectacular pirouettes.  I should have liked also to have seen him in something more lyrical, or even less than a century old.

The other competitors demonstrated a wider range, but I thought that only one, Ksenia Ovsyanick, was completely successful.  Her first solo, Out of Line, was fluid but accurate, showing clear understanding of the patterns on the floor as well has the shape of the movement, and in Don Quixote she was exciting, spirited, in character, and technically precise.

Three of the other dancers’ classical variations were flawed by loss of balance or uncertainty on pointe, but Black Swan and Paquita were very difficult choices, and Nancy Osbaldeston even had to contend with a late arrival in the audience being led across the auditorium by an usherette with a torch just after she had started.

I enjoyed Barry Drummond’s solos.  He made a very good job of a variation from La Sylphide, dealing well with fiendishly tricky batterie, although I think he needs to develop even more control of his upper body and arms to perfect the style, and his beautiful if lengthy solo by Nacho Duato was a complete contrast in style and technique.

Nancy Osbaldeston, interestingly, had choreographed her second solo herself.  Sassy and fun, not surprisingly, it showed both her personality and her strong technique to great advantage, and also went very much better for her than did Paquita.  I was glad to see someone who may be an emerging (female) choreographer, as well as a dancer.

Introduced by the “original Ballet Boyz”, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, this was a highly professional evening, until the moment that the decisions had to be announced, when the show seemed almost to fall apart for lack of planning.  Perhaps it was the pain of not being able to give awards to all his dancers that threw Wayne Eagling a little off his stride, but I think that next year a rehearsal for the judges would help.  It would have been interesting for the audience, and perhaps for the dancers, if he had explained which qualities the judges valued the most.   Looking at the result, presumably it was virtuosity and showmanship.  The decision was bound to be made on the basis of what each dancer achieved on the night itself, and I think that some of them will have been disappointed by their particular performances, but I should have liked to know whether the judges considered other talents, such as the ability to perform different sorts of work to the highest standards or indeed the ability to choreograph.  As they took longer than planned to make up their minds, there must have been some interesting discussion.

When asked to speak off the cuff, Clement Crisp was eloquent, praising the company and pointing out that these six dancers are representative of the future of ENB.   Interestingly, David Wall chose to address his words directly to the dancers, reminding them that dance is not all about pyrotechnics;  it is about engaging the emotions of the audience.  I hope that neither the dancers nor the company lose sight of that.

The dancers were Yonah Acosta, Barry Drummond, Nancy Osbaldeston, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Junor Souza and Jia Zhang.