English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013

Posted: March 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013

English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 4

Nancy Osbaldeston in Bach Suite No. 2 photo: Patrick Baldwin

 

English National Ballet has an enterprising Learning program that encourages the public to engage in ballet through various interactive projects. This time last year I was drawn to their Dance in Focus, an opportunity to develop dance photography under the guidance of Chris Nash, and recently I joined their stimulating Dance is the Word workshop on critical dance writing with Donald Hutera. It was structured around ENB’s Emerging Dancer 2013, a platform that encourages promising artists within the company to step up to a new level. Each year six dancers — thee men and three women up to the rank of soloist (this year they are all Artists of the Company) — are chosen to prepare for this privilege on top of their demanding touring schedule. Unlike last year, where dancers were judged on two solos, the 2013 competition is based on a solo and a pas de deux, a framework that allows both individual expression and fine-tuning with a partner.

We watch the dancers in company class in the Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom and later in dress rehearsal on stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Neither of these preparatory processes is designed for public observation; they are places for each dancer to iron out technical, spatial, costume or lighting problems under the aegis of company teachers and directors, so the presence of even a small number of spectators can have an ambivalent effect on the artists. It is the performance on which the dancers are judged, after all, and that is the moment for which they summon all their powers.

It is the nature of competition to single out a winner and Nancy Osbaldeston rose to the challenge to carry off this year’s prize. John Neumeier’s fluid solo Bach Suite No. 2 is a perfect vehicle for her radiant turns and effortless ballon and in the pas de deux from Don Quixote with Ken Saruhashi she replaces Kitri’s dark vein of passion with her naturally bright ebullience. Osbaldeston doesn’t have the classical lines of Laurretta Summerscales or Alison McWhinney, but she has a star quality that makes her shine in whatever she does.

The award is made on the night by a jury of five (Tamara Rojo, Darcey Bussell, Luke Jennings, Tommy Franzén and Jude Kelly), but an additional prize is the result of audience votes over the previous season. In 2012 the jury and the public concurred, but this year’s People’s Choice recognized the qualities of Summerscales, whose wit and intelligence and swan-like ability to reveal beauty without any apparent effort are the mark of a great artist. For her solo, she danced the Calliope Rag from Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Élite Syncopations; she could have brought out a more unctuously flirtatious quality, but her musicality and sense of fun were evident. My heart went out to McWhinney, whose ethereal tenderness in Giselle — she will save many a young man from an early death and will make them all eternally repentant — and her lovely line and poise in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique are a joy to watch.

It is fitting in the year Tamara Rojo becomes artistic director that the women feature so strongly in this competition. In a sense they have already emerged, showing a mature self-awareness in their choice of solo to complement their pas de deux. The men are not quite so astute: Saruhashi and Nathan Young choose solos that challenge their technical skills but that do little to enhance their stage presence, while Guilherme Menezes, whose enthusiasm and innocence draw us naturally into his confidence, has the right idea — a loose, clown-like solo by Nicky Ellis to contrast with the Black Swan pas de deux — but the choreography is not well enough developed to fully reveal his energies and qualities. Saruhashi has prodigious technical ability but wears his emotions close to the skin, giving an impeccable if somewhat inscrutable rendering of Don Quixote and unwinding only slightly in the all-too-brief Patrice Bart solo, Verdiana. Nathan Young gives full play to his romantic spirit and partnering ability in Giselle, but his style in Bournonville’s Napoli variation is too muscular to bring out the Danish charm and buoyancy.

It is worth noting that Osbaldeston and Summerscales were finalists in 2011 and 2012 respectively; it will be interesting to see which of this year’s three men will emerge in 2014.