Winner of the 2020 Emerging Dancer Award, Ivana Bueno © Laurent Liotardo

Emerging Dancer 2020, English National Ballet

Originally scheduled for 29th May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it must have seemed at times that this year’s Emerging Dancer (the 11th) might never happen. Fortunately, the dance world is consumed with a ‘never give up’ attitude and thanks to support from every quarter, an abundance of ingenuity and a massive amount of hard work, Emerging Dancer 2020 went ahead in the Holloway Production Studio at English National Ballet’s magnificent new home on London City Island. And if anyone had had concerns that the six young dancers might not be performance ready because of virus restrictions, the opposite was true. The finalists, chosen by their peers, were on top form and quite breathtaking in their accomplishments.

With a small, invited audience, seated socially distanced, the performance was live streamed across the world. Having been absent from the stage for more than six months could well have proved a daunting experience, but if there were nerves, they were not apparent.  In a studio upstairs, the full English National Ballet Philharmonic, also socially distanced and masked where possible, performed gloriously under Gavin Sutherland’s expert baton. The illustrious roster of judges comprised Tamara Rojo, Kenneth Tindall, Matthew Hart, Edward Watson, Kerry Nicholls and Natalia Osipova. Ore Oduba was a charming, charismatic host, dancer James Streeter produced the event and with four truly excellent new works on offer, this much anticipated evening was worth the wait.

Opening with the Satanella pas de deux, Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent wasted no time in showing us their command of exceptionally challenging classical technique as well as winning us over with the warmth and radiance of their personalities. I couldn’t help but notice that Suzuki was required to turn to the left and right in her variation – a feat not often utilised since most dancers have a better turning side. However, this did not faze her. Later, in a contemporary duet created by Stina Quagebeur, Hollow, I was further persuaded that the two of them can reach an audience not just with their dazzling smiles but with very powerful dramatic ability. Quagebeur, ENB’s associate choreographer, gave them ample opportunity to show their versatility, Prigent touchingly attentive to Suzuki’s disturbed woman.

Ivana Bueno and William Yamada were similarly challenged in The Talisman pas de deux – Bueno displaying among other things, a remarkable ability to turn, and Yamada showing exceptional strength as a partner. They too, excelled in Mthuthuzeli November’s, FULL-OUT, an exhilarating duet that ignited the kind of excitement we had hoped for.

The final partnership was between Carolyne Galvao and Miguel Angel Maidana. One must gently remind oneself that all six finalists are still in the corps de ballet. As Galvao and Maidana tackled Diana and Acteon pas de deux like seasoned ballet stars I wondered how on earth the judges were going to pick a winner. Jeffrey Cirio came up trumps with a wonderful duet “both of two…” which highlighted a tangible connection between them, moving with perfect synchrony. Last year’s winners performed while the judges deliberated. Julia Conway who has since been promoted, danced a competent Esmeralda and the fourth new piece of choreography came in the form of a solo for last year’s People’s Choice winner, Rhys Antoni Yeomans. Created by Arielle Smith, Mañana Iguana came close to stealing the show. Yeomans’ cheeky chappy personality and polished technique, the light hearted nature of the choreography, was a superb antidote to the misery of the last few months.

After some very interesting interviews, it was crunch time. The winner of the Corps de Ballet Award was Claire Barrett, People’s Choice went to a very deserving Victor Prigent and the Emerging Dancer 2020 went to the lovely Ivana Bueno. I have only one gripe about the entire evening and that is that some of the camera angles were unfortunate.  In the vast space of the studio, filming from above did not do justice to the dancers when airborne and from the corner, were unnecessarily exposing. That aside, most people will agree that it was a very close run competition, that they were all winners. But essentially, Rojo and the company, have given us hope. It was an exemplary performance, reminding us all how important it is that live performances resume and just how enjoyable it can be for all concerned.  Hearty congratulations to ENB for their triumphant return – we so badly needed this!

By Deborah Weiss

Emerging Dancer 2020 is available to watch until 29th September at at a cost of £5.