Review: English National Ballet - Emerging Dancer 2016 - London Palladium

Performance: 17 May 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 18 May 2016

Winner of the ENB Emerging Dancer Award 2016 Cesar Corrales.  Photo:  Laurent Liotardo

This was not a stellar year for English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Award in terms of being a contest. In fact, no sooner had the six finalists been announced, it seemed that the winner was already beyond doubt. That this sure-fire favourite was last to appear on the Palladium stage, bounding on from the wings with a mighty leap to join Rina Kanehara in the exhilarating Diana and Acteon pas de deux, seemed to confirm that the best had indeed been saved for last. Coming after two relatively pedestrian duets, Agrippina Vaganova’s much-loved gala party piece designed especially for the fireworks of big virtuosity – and by the male dancer in particular – seemed also to provide an unfair advantage!

Ballet audiences love a good-looking, athletic young man with attitude and a big leap; and if he dances topless then so much the better! If the same young man has an exceptional technique to go with his lithe, muscular body and brooding Latin handsomeness then it is – as was proven – a winning combination.

Cesar Corrales was born a dancer. His parents are dancers and it seems quite likely that he exited the womb with a pirouette. He danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the age of four and spent two years in art imitating life, imitating art, performing as Billy Elliott in Canada and the USA. Having already won a bevy of leading roles since joining ENB, in 2014, he was promoted to junior soloist within a year and is clearly on an upwards trajectory likely to culminate in principal status. Certainly, Corrales was head and shoulders above the competition both with the judges and the public, winning the People’s Choice Award (decided by popular vote throughout the season) alongside Emerging Dancer.

It isn’t always the case that the out-and-out favourite triumphs in this contest. Back in 2011, the elegant finesse of Shiori Kase won out over the world-class virtuosity of Vadim Muntagirov, then just 21. Incidentally, Corrales is not yet 20 and he has ability akin to the young Muntagirov in delivering multiple pirouettes with perfect control, varying the speed with acceleration and deceleration to suit the mood and intensity of the music.

For a company that is run by Tamara Rojo, one of the most charismatic dancers ever, there was a notable absence of personality projected from the stage and I exempt no-one from this criticism, not even the winner. In the first couple of pas de deux pairings, the dancing was notably laboured as the young performers seemed intent on getting through the choreography without mishap at the expense of adding value to their performances through flourish and charisma. Corrales certainly has attitude but, presently, it comes in a one-dimensional package.

Petipa’s The Talisman pas de deux by Erik Woolhouse and Isabelle Brouwers was a quaint choice and they deserve an extra mark for thinking outside the usual box but it was a pedestrian and unremarkable performance. Danielle Silingardi and Jeanette Kakareka danced the Black Swan pas de deux, which – to be honest – we really didn’t need to see again. It has to be performed with flair and expression but this delivery was notably under-cooked. Against this background, the Diana and Acteon duet was full of character and fizz. Both Corrales and Kanehara danced it well but only Corrales’ variation was of gala standard.

I enjoyed the six solos much more than the varied quality of the pas de deux and, here, it was the offerings of the final pair that I found the more disappointing. Not, from a technical or expressiveness point of view, but because both dodged the contemporary brief with solos that were modern but still firmly based on classical language. Julio Lopez’s Contrabajo para hombre solo allowed Corrales to dance without a top to the tango-infused music of Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla, while retaining his aloof machismo and continuing his torrent of jumps and spins. That he is a remarkable athlete with an exceptional technique is beyond question but he needs to resist the urge to extemporise jumps in mid-flow because this tends to come with a loss of controlled precision amongst the fireworks.

Kanehara performed Jean-Christophe Maillot’s modern take on the Black Swan variation with Tchaikovsky’s music especially arranged for the evening by Gavin Sutherland. It was perhaps the most charismatic of all the performances and deserved to put this charming dancer (the youngest in the whole company) in contention. I feel that her time will come again. Sutherland, by the way, not only arranged much of the music but conducted a representative scratch crew from the ENB Philharmonic from behind a downstage scrim, thus proving a certain degree of admired flexibility, swivelling around to be able to see the dancers and conduct accordingly!

The musicians did a great job, which is more than can be said for the sound technicians since the lovely divertissement for last year’s Emerging Dancer winner, Jinhao Zhang, partnering Kase in the pas d’esclave from Le Corsair was unduly impacted upon by mutterings picked up from a backstage microphone. You really don’t expect such poor production values at the London Palladium.

For me, the best of the contemporary dance came in solos by the dancers returning to the contest from last year’s cohort. Isabelle Brouwers performed a delightful new piece by rising choreographer, Charlotte Edmonds and Jeanette Kakareka matched this quality in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose. Excellent performances and great to see the ENB’s support of female choreographers carrying on from the recent She Said programme. Clearly as a by-product of her being with the dancers while choreographing her part of that programme, Lopez Ochoa also contributed the movement for Woolhouse in Eros Redux: neatly performed but notably brief in comparison with the other solos. Silingardi deserves praise for bringing attention to John Neumeier’s work (woefully under-represented in the UK) with an extract from Spring and Fall.

Altogether, the six solos went some considerable way to making up for my disappointment with the pas de deux. But, each of these dancers would do well to study the personality injected by their boss into every role; indeed, into every detail of her movement. At present, we are seeing too much concentration on delivering the choreography and nothing on expressing the reasons why.

Natasha Kaplinsky (a Board member of ENB) reprised her usual role as MC with an earnest, upbeat enthusiasm and professionalism (although I have a slight suspicion that it was her microphone that caused the unnecessary aural intervention). Perhaps the nicest moment of the whole evening – and a welcome addition to the event – was naming Jennie Harrington as the first recipient of the Corps de Ballet Award. She was charmingly both shocked and overwhelmed.

More about the 2016 Emerging Dancers

Photos: Laurent Liotardo

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

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