Timing is everything – in life and in dance. This proved true for English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2014 as two past competitors were declared joint winners.
Judges Deborah Bull CBE, Clement Crisp OBE, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Arlene Phillips CBE, Tamara Rojo and Wayne Sleep OBE deemed it time for Alison McWhinney (previously 2013 participant) and Junor Souza (2012) to ‘emerge’.
Performing Perrot’s Esmeralda Pas de Deux, at London’s packed Lyceum Theatre, both dancers sparkled – and not just because their forest-green costumes were adorned with gold.
Esmeralda showcased Alison’s pure lines, control and extension. The female variation requires the ballerina to capture the innocence of first love while retaining gypsy flair. With a flirtatious incline of her head and slightly angled shoulders, Alison evoked the right level of seduction. Coquettishly kicking the tambourine during the final sequence, she had style, poise and confidence.
Alison had a considerate partner in Junor. Their impressive lifts and tricks appeared effortless and supported balances were well-timed to counteract slight quivers.
Junor is an outstanding technician and thrilling performer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also won the People’s Choice Award. His explosive leaps had such vigour he almost disappeared into the wings, yet he curbed his enthusiasm to follow the fireworks with multiple, faultless, turns.
Pleasingly, both dancers’ solos contrasted with classical Esmeralda. Junor’s self-choreographed Last Minute featured skilfully executed inverted round kicks and ripples. Similarly, Alison dazzled in Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin, her blissful freedom and serene asymmetry a joy to behold.
Having observed the technique and artistry of the six finalists, I echo Artistic Director Tamara Rojo’s assertion that they are all winners.
Senri Kou and Vitor Menezes had a charming connection in Bournonville’s Romantic Era La Sylphide pas de deux. The playful duet between farmer and elusive winged spirit suited Senri’s delicacy. She weightlessly flitted around Vitor’s robust Scotsman. Vitor juxtaposed this gallant partnering against cheeky, hip-swivelling (and crowd-pleasing) solo Mambo Suite (choreographed by Ana Maria Stekelman).
Joan Sebastian Zamora and Madison Keesler were delightful in Bournonville’s Flower Festival pas de deux. This frothiness was countered with later intensity as a bare-chested Joan boldly portrayed Petit’s bridegroom’s descent into madness in his L’Arlésienne solo. Opting for a similar contrast, Madison (recruited to the Company just last year) was stunning in Liam Scarlett’s Variations on a Theme. Sweeping movements incorporating her upper body and the skirt of her red dress delivered drama that was matched by spine-tingling stage presence.
As Emerging Dancer is a competition, someone had to triumph and I agree with the esteemed judges’ decision to have an unprecedented joint win. Still, all the finalists’ time will come and English National Ballet‘s future looks bright with these rising stars.
*Photography by ASH.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.