English National Ballet are unique in celebrating their dancers with a very public event, and seven awards on from its embryonic start in their Jay Mews studios it’s rather grown and this year was held at the London Palladium – very prestigious and special. Bravo to Talbot Hughes McKillop for originally investing in it over the years and, agree with the winner(s) or not, it’s great to celebrate dancers that don’t always get lauded. This year there was also a new award – the Corps de Ballet Award for an Artist of the company who has gone above and beyond the call of duty over the season. It was won by Jennie Harrington who was out in the audience and totally unprepared. A nice little extra award, given at the discretion of the ballet staff.
Another award given for excellence over the season is the People’s Choice Award where the audience at ENB performances is encouraged to vote for the dancer they most like – the only dancers not eligible are the Principals. This year it was won by the charismatic junior soloist, Cesar Corrales. Unlike Jennie Harrington he was on stage already, being one of the 6 emerging artists competing for the main award on the night. Needless to say he looked most pleased to get the big tick from the audience as he waited, like the other 5, to hear the judges’ deliberations on the night’s dancing.
The nominees this year were: Isabelle Brouwers (Artist, also nominated in 2015), Cesar Corrales (Junior Soloist), Jeanette Kakareka (Artist, also nominated in 2015), Rina Kanehara (Artist), Daniele Silingardi (Artist) and Erik Woolhouse (Artist)
The judges this year were: Tamara Rojo, Matthew Bourne, Viviana Durante, Thomas Edur, Russell Maliphant, Oxana Panchenko and Morgann Runacre-Temple.
The format of the evening was as usual with the 6 emerging dancers being paired off by ballet staff and each of the pairs choosing a classical pas de deux to dance, plus the associated solos. After those 3 performances the 6 dancers are seen totally on their own in their own choice of contemporary solo.
Isabelle Brouwers and Erik Woolhouse danced Petipa’s Talisman pas de deux and made a pretty good fist of it, though obviously nervous at times. Brouwers looked very calm, in control and finished whereas with Woolhouse you felt he was still growing into his very long legs and finding his way as a partner. But greatly to his credit he went for it, if he didn’t quite achieve it all. A boy with heart. All up I marked Brouwers as in contention to win.
Jeanette Kakareka and Daniele Silingardi choose the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake – where she dazzles and misleads the hero. I very much liked Kakareka in last year’s competition and this year was no different – she has a very sparse Russian look and much precision in her dancing. She looked particularly strong in the pas de deux although her partner, like many at this stage, is still learning exactly how to be discretely dependable and supportive. Silingardi was unusual in playing it very straight rather than trying to do something that might be considered a stretch. So he delivered clean steps at the cost of them not always looking so exciting. By some margin it was clear that Kakareka was the one to watch.
Rina Kanehara and Cesar Corrales took on the good-looking Diana and Acteon pas de deux. Kanehara might be the youngest member of the company but she looked perky, happy and secure in her dancing. Corrales is also young but joined the company in 2014 and was rapidly promoted to junior soloist (and thus is already 2 ranks above all the other emerging dancers) and you could see why given his Cuban swagger, big jumps and really go for it all attitude.
So after the classical works 3 were in contention for me: Brouwers, Kakareka and Corrales. But how would they all fare in the contemporary section and/or would somebody come storming through? Well the answer was that it wasn’t generally a great year in the choice of choreography and nobody really changed the perceptions garnered earlier. There was one exception: Isabelle Brouwers danced a piece by Charlotte Edmonds (currently with the Royal Ballet as part of their Young Choreographer Programme) that kept her constantly on the move and showed her to great advantage. Called Pelican Brouwers danced it in an Aszure Barton Fantastic Beings one-piece costume by Michelle Jank and it made her look a million dollars. The other solos were more about trying to show personality (not easy in 2 or 3 minutes), it seemed, but were light on choreographic merit generally. None of them really seemed to come out and conquer us.
So who would the judges go for? Well if you wanted a go-for-it-crowd-pleaser, then it was Cesar Corrales but I was actually rooting for Kakareka and Brouwers – not so obviously exciting perhaps but quietly most engaging. And they went for Corrales – a very popular win within the Palladium and also outside of course – it’s rare for somebody to win both the awards in the one year. A huge “well done” to him but I hope that Isabelle Brouwers and Jeanette Kakareka are nominated again. Regardless of that, the Emerging Dancer competition is a great reminder of the dancers that make English National Ballet shows work so well. Other companies would do well to note the success of ENB in this area…