Emerging Dancer Review

It might be English National Ballet’s marquee names like Tamara Rojo and Alina Cojocaru who grab the headlines; but at the company’s fifth annual Emerging Dancer Awards, its six competitors demonstrated there’s a promising depth to its lower ranks, too.

With just a pas de deux and a solo to perform, the dancers had only a limited chance to make their mark.  Yet in part due to company member Laurent Liotardo’s sensitively filmed profiles of each nominee—featuring the dancers’ own words as well as scenes of rehearsals—all successfully conveyed some essence of themselves to the audience.
Senri Kou and Vitor Menezes conjured up a sweet chemistry in a selection from La SylphideKou’s beautiful port de bras gave her an ethereal, feather-light quality, and Menezes was encouragingly charming in his interpretation of James.  In the Flower Festival pas de deux, Madison Keesler’s commitment to building a character shone — the way she’d shyly smile at partner Joan Sebastian Zamora, or how she lovingly looked on as he danced.
But it was Junor Souza and Alison McWhinney with the more exciting selection—from Esmeralda by Jules Perrot—and the pair seized the opportunity to thrill, he with show-stopping jumps and turns and she with a strong, elegant bearing and just a hint of sass.
The dancers’ solos seemed more personal, exploring differing facets of themselves.  Menezes was deliciously vivid in his knockout of a solo, Mambo Suite; Kou was beautifully lyrical in John Neumeier’s Nocturnes.  And McWhinney displayed an absorbing quicksilver musicality in an extract from David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin.
But I most enjoyed Keesler’s bold choice, set to Rachmaninoff and newly created for her by Liam Scarlett.  Opening in silence and mixing moments both still and stormy, Variations on a Theme showcased Keesler’s strength of dramatic expression, creating an intriguing character in a whirl of a red dress.
The evening was rounded off with performances from last year’s winners.  Nancy Osbaldeston brought buckets of attitude to her own choreography in Syke, and Laurretta Summerscales was a tender, lovely Manon in the bedroom pas de deux, danced with James Forbat.
Then it was time for the winner—or winners, as it happened, as the judges awarded the prize jointly to Souza and McWhinney, delighting the cheerfully vocal audience.  But in the end, declaring a victor almost seemed beside the point, as the enjoyable evening served another purpose for English National Ballet regulars: providing an inspiring peek into the company’s talents of tomorrow.

By Jessica Kranish