Emerging Dancer 2014 Review

On the Saturday before the English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer competition, I was lucky enough to meet this year’s nominees in rehearsal. It was a privileged glimpse into the ballet world that most don’t get to see and I was struck by their humble, self-deprecating nature and the resounding support they had for each other.

Senri Kou and Vitor Menezes were having a lot of fun rehearsing the La Sylphide pas de deux. Alison McWhinney and Junor Souza seemed more serious, berating themselves when they made tiny errors. Such was the difficulty of the pointe section in their Esmeralda duet, I actually held my breath watching McWhinney practice the steps. Madison Keesler joined us later, notably articulate and intelligent. Only Joan Sebastian Zamora was absent, performing in Maliphant’s Second Breath up in Manchester.

This insight into their preparation, motivations and aspirations was like an exclusive preview to the main event. When asked about the secrets of a great performance, Keesler told us that the most important things were to “trust yourself” and be “honest” and on Monday at the Lyceum Theatre, these rising stars did exactly that.

In Neumeier’s Nocturnes, Kou’s silky arms and enchanting expression had the audience spellbound. Rocking his Mambo Suite solo, Menezes revealed his cheeky Latin charm to Cuban beats. Keesler was a soulful vision in red in Variations on a Theme, created especially for her by Liam Scarlett, while Zamora’s version of L’Arlesienne capitalized on his dynamic power and strength.

But ultimately, the stage belonged to Souza and McWhinney. The anticipation of knowing about McWhinney’s toe-crushingly tricky sequence at the end of Esmeralda added to my excitement of seeing it on the night. I was rooting for her to pull it off, which she did with aplomb.

Having seen Souza leap around the studio in a garish, stripy bodywarmer, getting frustrated that his self-devised solo was “too hard” it was striking to see the level of maturity in his actual performance. I half expected a silver jet stream to tail him whenever he soared across the boards, his endless legs made for every gliding grand jeté. He really did fly.

In a delightful end to the evening, Artistic Director Tamara Rojo announced McWhinney and Souza as joint winners of the distinguished judge’s prize. Having previously joked that Souza ‘had already emerged’, there were no complaints from his fellow dancers, nor the audience, when he also claimed the People’s Choice Award.

Astoundingly, Souza and McWhinney had not partnered each other before. Rojo should get onto this. Souza’s too-cool-for-school verve is the perfect complement to McWhinney’s sharp technique. I’m sure it’s not just me that would love to see them combine their ying-yang talents again soon.

By Lara Hayward