Daniel McCormick is the deserving winner of English National Ballet’s ninth Emerging Dancer Award. Having impressed recently with his performance as the Bluebird, in the current run of The Sleeping Beauty, McCormick – still only a first year artist – won this prestigious award for dancing the grand pas de deux from Le Corsaire (partnering Francesca Velicu) plus a solo from Trey McIntyre’s Leatherwing Bat.  

Daniel McCormick in McIntyre's <i>Leatherwing Bat</i> © Laurent Liotardo
Daniel McCormick in McIntyre's Leatherwing Bat
© Laurent Liotardo

Georgia Bould scored a notable double whammy, receiving this year’s Corps de Ballet Award while wearing her La Sylphide costume, having just danced Bournonville extracts as a divertissement for winning last year’s People’s Choice award. Completing the line-up of winners, a clearly overwhelmed Alice Bellini was unable to say anything other than a quick giggly thanks, having won the People’s Choice Award for 2018. So, the whole event was a triumph for the hard-working artists of ENB with all three successes going to dancers at this entry level in the company hierarchy.

I doubt that McCormick will remain there for long. ENB has this knack of attracting and developing powerful, virtuoso male dancers and this amiable San Franciscan is the latest in a long line that includes the winners of this competition over the past two years (Cesar Corrales and Aitor Arrieta- the latter winning jointly with his partner, Rina Kanehara).  McCormick was coached in his pas de deux by another former male winner of Emerging Dancer, Junor Souza, from 2014.

McCormick danced the Corsaire pas de deux, made famous in the west by Nureyev, in a measured way; secure as a partner, precise in his articulation of technique, suitably noble in posture and with a swashbuckling ebullience to his virtuoso dancing, invoking ferociously tight, fast spins and notable ballon. Even an accidental slip in the variation did not dent this young man’s confidence and - raucously urged on by colleagues in the audience - McCormick was up in a flash to finish his solo with a flourish, adding an extra rotation to the concluding jeté en tournant, to roars of appreciation. His playful solo (Leatherwing Bat, by Trey McIntyre) – to a hippyish folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary – had a kind of playground whimsicality, touched by poignancy, which McCormick conveyed with focus and fluidity. Having delivered the outstanding pas de deux and a memorable solo, his selection by the judges was clearly a popular choice.

Velicu played her part to make the Corsaire pas special. She has that special mix of delicacy and strength which bears comparison with the greatest Romanian ballerina, Alina Cojocaru. Velicu already has her own Olivier Award to suggest that she may have “emerged”, a remarkable achievement for one so young. Her solo, Toccata, which covered the stage in a frenzy of dance, was choreographed by former ENB dancer, Nancy Osbaldeston.

Francesca Velicu and Daniel McCormick in <i>Le Corsaire</i> © Laurent Liotardo
Francesca Velicu and Daniel McCormick in Le Corsaire
© Laurent Liotardo

The overall quality of the event continues an upwards trajectory and any one of the six finalists would have made a worthy winner in the event’s early years, which is testament to both the company’s talent-spotting capability and the strength of its coaching staff.

Of particular note were the performances of Precious Adams (a First Artist who has been with ENB, since 2014).  She gave an expressive account of Petipa’s Harlequinade pas de deux – partnered by Fernando Carratalá Coloma – and then an emotion-packed solo, entitled A Point of Collapse, by Mthuthuzeli November, which marked him out as a choreographer to watch.  Coloma followed the Petipa pas de deux with a whimsical solo, entitled The last call, which began and ended with the telephone ringing; choreographed by Mariano Cardano.

The third pair of Connie Vowles and Giorgio Garrett opened with a pas de deux from William Tell: a tough ask for Garrett to dance Bournonville in front of a judging panel including Johan Kobborg, one of the greatest modern exponents of the unique Danish style. Vowles gave an impassioned performance in Charlotte Edmonds Be all/End all; and Giorgio Garrett, with white-painted face, was a clown in need of friends in Ross Freddie Ray’s Fraudulent Smile; a performance that continued throughout the curtain call. 

This competition for new talent presented a very enjoyable gala, topped off, while the judges added up their marks, by a dance finale comprising Bould’s extracts from La Sylphide and the grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty by last year’s joint winners, Arrieta and Kanehara. In addition to Kobborg, the judges were artistic director, Tamara Rojo; Royal Ballet principal, Lauren Cuthbertson; former artistic director of the National Ballet of Uruguay, Julio Bocca; and Kerry Nicholls, director of Kerry Nicholls Dance. Having been one of six judges for last year’s event, which resulted in joint winners, I wondered if the reduction to five was to prevent another tied vote!  

Bringing the event to a close, Tamara Rojo said: “The standard we saw on stage tonight has been extraordinary. It was incredibly hard to pick a winner but the judges felt that Daniel had that little bit extra. He’s special, he has a hunger to continue to learn, openness to all the different styles English National Ballet has, and such courage as a young dancer to put himself out there.”