Days after BBC Young Dancer made its first successful appearance on TV people are still talking about it.
Most of the chat circles around the issues of comparing such diverse dance genres as contemporary, hip hop, South Asian and ballet (the ones chosen) – some with centuries-old codified tradition and some free and morphing rapidly, largely without established training. It’s a tough call for anybody but I think the winner rather showed the only way you can judge such diversity – who had the magic dust that entertained and engaged with the audience most. And that was Connor Scott, who notably didn’t win the contemporary semi-final – that was won by Jacob O’Connell, who was obviously technically stronger and where greater emphasis seemed to be put on such proficiency. At the time many (myself included) thought Scott deserved to be in the final and great he came through as a wild card. The win perhaps also reflects the zeitgeist of the young – Connor Scott has not really had much by way of advanced training (compared to others) but his spirit and doing it his way has delivered success. It’s not instant success but probably as near as you will get in dance. He now has a place at Rambert School (of Ballet and Contemporary Dance) and it will be interesting to see how he develops. For young people in training dance can almost seem as brutal as a chorister’s voice breaking – there may be very good omens but there are never any guarantees.
The one thing that struck me about BBC Young Dancer was the way that dance was broken down. So there was no ballroom component, no tap and no jazz dance either – and yet so many in training go on to dance in musicals etc. Ethnic dance came down to South Asian, but what of other ethnic dance? Easy to pick holes, I know, but I hope a wider view can be taken next time and perhaps a catch-all section introduced. That said, I think BBC Young Dancer shows amazing breadth already compared to BBC Young Musician which really ought to be called BBC Young Classical Musician – where is the ethnic component there? Or rock or jazz? Well for Jazz the BBC has actually just introduced the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award, so signs of movement, though why it’s a different award is less clear.
The structure of the final felt a little difficult at times. All the finalists seemed to look best in their first pieces (Solo 1) – chosen by them and often honed and coached to perfection. The Duets section felt more of a struggle – I guess it’s trying to show ‘team working’, or battling in the case of hip hop, but it seemed to take the emphasis away from the finalists. The new choreography section (Solo 2) also seemed hit-and-miss viewing. The reality is that choreographers (emerging, as here, or otherwise) usually choose who they want to create on and not having much time in a studio, with a developing body, is not necessarily going to deliver success. And if the emerging choreographer and the emerging dancer don’t deliver success, whose fault is that? That said, I suspect it is a really useful exercise for the dancers themselves and worth retaining just for that. Perhaps the final could be structured around the dancers performing an established piece of choreography, a piece they devised to show their breadth of skill and finally the choreographer’s work? Or perhaps they could dance a compulsory piece set by the judges, something they wanted (as now) and the choreographer’s work?
Ismene Brown has just written a piece “Why dance needs a Simon Cowell” and it struck me as well that nearly all the words about the young dancers were positive – taken all together it could be pretty syrupy. We all need Grandmother type characters in our lives – somebody who tells us we’ve done really well and it doesn’t matter anyway etc, when we know we’ve cocked up. But we also need plain speaking. Ismene Brown calls up Simon Cowell and I’d call up Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly Come Dancing – overly blunt perhaps but we all know in our heart of hearts the words are basically true. And when Revel Horwood gives praise, my goodness that’s real praise – not the praise of “You’ve all done jolly well”. That said…
I have to end on a note of celebration. Where there was nothing before, BBC Young Dancer has put the TV spotlight on dance and shows some of the hard work and dedication required to make things happen on stage. And just how wondrous that can be when it all comes together. It was particularity nice to see the coaching sessions, as skilled hands saw things that could be improved and passed on valuable lessons. And for the 6 dancers involved I feel sure they will go on to get jobs in the industry – and that’s actually the biggest prize of them all.