English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Award is a feelgood occasion that ticks any number of balletomane boxes. Set up to encourage young dancers within the company, it celebrates up-and-coming talent while giving the audience a chance to pick favourites. The winner is chosen by a starry panel of judges including dancers Darcey Bussell and Tommy Franzén.
The format is simple. Six young dancers, chosen from within English National Ballet, dance for the audience and judges before the award is presented. This year, the nominees were paired off to dance duets as well as solos. This shows how they work in partnership, in some of ballet’s best-known roles.
It also sets huge technical hurdles, without much time to prepare. There was some tension in the partnering, while the solos gave a better sense of these performers. Still, Nancy Osbaldeston and Ken Saruhashi whizzed through the Don Quixote pas de deux, while Laurretta Summerscales and Guilherme Menezes took on the dazzle of the Black Swan pas de deux. Alison McWhinney and Nathan Young had a harder task with the duet from Giselle. Romantic lyricism doesn’t have the instant punch of the other two firework numbers, and is more exposing.
This year’s winner was 23-year-old Nancy Osbaldeston, who gave the most finished of these performances. A small, blonde dancer with a bold personality, she dances on a big scale, with a buoyant jump and plenty of dynamic shading. After dancing a speedy solo by John Neumeier, she literally bounded off, still full of energy.
The People’s Choice award, chosen by audiences over the past five months, went to Laurretta Summerscales. A long-limbed dancer, Summerscales made an imperious Black Swan, and showed good performance instincts in the flirty comedy of her Elite Syncopations solo.
As dancers, these young performers are still emerging. There’s plenty of drive in their dancing, though some aspects are more polished than others. Menezes, at 20 the youngest of this year's contestants, was charming in the whimsy of Nicky Ellis’ A Simple Joy. He also gave one of his fast spins a beautifully slow finish. Saruhashi gave an eager performance of Patrice Bart’s Verdiana solo, while Nathan Young was brisk in a solo from Napoli. Alison McWhinney showed her grander side in a solo from Grand Pas Classique.
While the judges decided, the audience saw two past winners, Yonah Acosta and Shiori Kase, in a sparky performance of the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. It’s a lively finale for a cheerful evening.