In its eleventh iteration, the annual English National Ballet contest for Emerging Dancer broke new ground – for obvious reasons – by being streamed online from the company’s new HQ at London City Island, which was (just five days’ earlier) announced as Building of the Year by the Architects Journal. It was a first opportunity for many of us to see why and I was impressed by the integral theatre within the complex and the upstairs studio in which a socially-distanced orchestra, conducted by Music Director, Gavin Sutherland, played live to accompany the dancers.

Miguel Angel Maidana and Carolyne Galvao perform Diana and Acteon
© Laurent Liotardo

The event followed its usual pattern of being both uplifting, through the opportunity to see wonderful young dancers in the spotlight, and frustrating since – frankly – each dancer showed qualities that could have deserved the ultimate accolade. That choice fell to a distinguished panel of judges comprising ENB artistic director, Tamara Rojo; three past or present principals of the Royal Ballet (Matthew Hart, Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson); and two choreographers, Kenny Tindall and Kerry Nicholls.  

The online streaming was slick and the momentum of the event was given impetus by the refreshing mix of authoritative and informal compering by Ore Oduba, a former winner of Strictly Come Dancing. His urbane and confident presentational style encompassed several brief interviews, conducted knowledgeably, courteously and efficiently. 

The six dancers were paired together to perform a classical grand pas de deux and a contemporary duet: the first invariably of ancient Russian heritage; the second a world premiere of a new work. The three contemporary duets, by Jeffrey Cirio, Mthuthuzeli November and Stine Quagebeur, were high quality choreographies that each deserves a place in an ongoing repertoire. I hope they don’t get lost now this one-off event is over.

Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent perfom Satanella
© Laurent Liotardo

The choice of classical pieces was a predictable gala fare of pas de deux long detached from any ballet that previously accommodated them. Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent opened with a pas de deux from Satanella, a ballet with origins back to 1840, revived by Petipa in 1868. The dancing is challenging and both performers showed an elegance and confidence to demonstrate they are already well capable of delivering this level of performance with aplomb. They were followed by the grand pas from The Talisman, danced by Ivana Bueno and William Yamada, another legacy of a Petipa ballet (much later, from 1889) which now lives on alone, routinely danced in Russia as a showcase for emerging students. At just 21, Bueno (from Texas via Mexico and Monte Carlo) impressed with her assured elegance and excellent technique; Yamada showed a strong performance quality but his variation lacked the strength and elevation of the other two male competitors (something to work on). The final classical duet was another veteran warhorse of Imperial Russian origin, the Diana and Acteon pas de deux, which was danced with suitable power and panache by Carolyne Galvao and Angel Maidana, both of whom gave scintillating hi-octane performances. As a veteran observer of all the previous editions of Emerging Dancer (including one year as a judge), I felt that this was the strongest all-round classical section I can recall (perhaps evidence that the lack of other performances has given the dancers more time to prepare).

William Yamada and Ivana Bueno perform Talisman
© Laurent Liotardo

The contemporary duets were also delivered to a very high standard. Quagebeur’s Hollow was an absorbing journey of emotional contact and fluid movement, danced expressively by Suzuki and Prigent, both of whom met the challenge of difficult, non-stop choreography with great artistry and frankly either of them must have had a very good shout for the top award. As it was, online viewers must have felt similarly, because the text vote for People’s Choice went to Prigent (although personally, I don’t see how the pair could be divided since their performances were mutually complementary).

William Yamada and Ivana Bueno perform Full-Out
© Laurent Liotardo

November’s burgeoning talent as a choreographer was further evidenced by Full-Out for Bueno and Yamada, which articulated his characteristic quirkiness from beginning to end (when Bueno pushes Yamada over on the last note) in a sinuous, informal style that suited these dancers very well. And, finally the last duet, entitled both of two by ENB Principal Jeffrey Cirio, was for Galvao and Maidana, performing uniform, tightly coordinated movement in very dark lighting (not good for streaming purposes). Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this duet, which was beautifully controlled by the two dancers and presented a stark contrast to the fireworks of their classical piece.

After two confident divertissements by last year’s winners, Julia Conway (a variation from Esmeralda) and Rhys Antoni Yeomans (dancing a fourth new contemporary creation, this by Arielle Smith) and the presentation of this year’s Corps de Ballet Award to Claire Barrett (and the People’s Choice Award to Prigent), the 2020 Emerging Dancer Award went to Ivana Bueno who had presented a strong range of diverse qualities across her two pieces. Ivana’s elder sister, Anais, has been a professional ballerina for almost twenty years and now dances at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. It seems like her younger sibling has a similar high-achieving trajectory ahead. 

This performance was reviewed from the video stream.