Emerging Dancer 2013, Kati Rynne

What do you want to see when you go to a dancing competition? I’m always hoping to see a stand-out performance, a dancer who should obviously win.

The six young competitors at this year’s Emerging Dancer Final, held at the cavernous Queen Elizabeth Hall, are fairly evenly matched. All are brilliant, interesting, technical performers but none is outstanding, I think. It’s almost awkward that there has to be a winner at all.

English National Ballet. Emerging Dancer competition 2013.
Petite Nancy Osbaldeston presents Neumeier’s folksy, jazzy choreography to the Bach Suite No. 2. It’s a solo in which you show the audience your heels and hips as much as your toes. Caught up in its playfulness, Nancy exits stage with a string of perky pas de chats. It makes judge Darcey Bussell laugh out loud.

There’s another treat for Darcey: a performance of Kenneth McMillan’s Elite Syncopations. Once Darcey’s own signature solo, it is showcased now by bright spark Laurretta Summerscales, who gyrates and stalks through the dance with an exquisitely supple back and arched feet.

Laurretta doesn’t do it as well as Darcey did but that’s not the point: the Emerging Dancer competition is about potential, not polish. It’s an opportunity for junior members of English National Ballet to attempt ambitious dances usually reserved for ballet principals and imperfection is perfectly acceptable tonight.

Alison McWhinney, playing Giselle, masters a long, meditative series of développés and penchées with spine-tingling control. Lost in her own world, she saturates the stage in an oppressive, almost disturbing sadness. Vigorous, strong and lyrical, Nathan Young carries Alison so sensitively that she actually seems to fly. It is a moment of pure ballet magic.

English National Ballet. Emerging Dancer competition 2013.

Strength is something which all the male competitors have in common. Comedian Guilherme Menezes is in superb control of his prat-falls, rolls and dives in Nicky Ellis’s slapstick piece A Simple Joy. As Don Quixote, Ken Saruhashi cuts up the stage with his grand jétés, suspended by a powerful centrifugal force. Ken is a deeply athletic dancer who can harness the contrasting forces buried within a choreography and smash them out like a tennis player.

The competition ends. While the judges withdraw to compare notes, Yonah Acosta and Shiori Kase (competition winners from previous years) present Pepita’s Diana and Acteon for our pleasure. Kase is grace and elegance personified but it is 23-year-old Acosta who provides the outstanding performance I’ve been waiting for all night. His elevation, power, flair and grit make him a breath-taking artist, head and shoulders above his peers. It is almost a relief to experience a stand-out performance at last.

Nancy Osbaldeston is awarded winner of Emerging Dancer 2013. Laurretta Summerscales secures the popular vote and is awarded People’s Choice. All six competitors are going to bring energy and artistry to future ENB ballets but for goodness’ sake, make sure you go and see something with Yonah Acosta in it. Dancers like him only come along once a generation and it’s important to celebrate that.

Kati Rynne