Genée International Ballet Competition Final
Sadler’s Wells, London
September 19, 2015
After two days of semi-finals at Stratford Circus Arts Centre in East London, where the initial 76 contestants aged 15 to 19, from 16 countries, were whittled down to 12, the Royal Academy of Dance’s Genée shifted to a packed out Sadler’s Wells for its final.
The overall standard was certainly higher than in Glasgow a couple of years ago, so the judging panel of Monica Mason, former Director of The Royal Ballet, David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, and David Bintley, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet had their work cut out.
The Genée does not have first, second and third prizes, but gold, silver and bronze medals, the number of which are given being entirely at the judges’ discretion. Some years there are multiple winners, some years there is no gold.
This year there was a gold medal, though, and remarkably, like all this year’s medallists and award winners, Leroy Mokgatle from the Art of Motion School in Johannesburg, South Africa is still just 15. Mokgatle may be slight in stature, but he is a huge talent. Technically he was solid, his performances helped enormously by the careful selecting of solos that suited his outgoing personality.
In everything he did, Mokgatle showed clearly his love of dancing, engaging the audience in a way none of the others managed, even in Bastions of Courage, the solo danced by all the male candidates, created by young 18-year old choreographer Charlotte Edmonds. Both that and her dance for the females, The Forgotten Frontline, lacked impact. It says a lot that the best image of both, especially of the women’s dance, was the walk on in silhouette. The titles suggest war references and while that was occasionally hinted at in the dance, the choreography was largely forgettable, although the soporific music by Jody Talbot (for Bastions) and Adrian Johnston (for Frontline) didn’t help any. Apart from Mokgatle, only Uyu Hiromoto and Honoka Ishihara managed to find much in the way of personal interpretation, though, Ishihara’s leaving of a couple of direct looks at the audience a split second longer working wonders in making that all important connection.
Mokgatle shone in both his chosen solos. His performance of the principal variation from MacMillan’s Danses Concertantes was full of energy as he tapped neatly into the witty qualities inherent in the dance and Stravinsky’s music. His Dancer’s Choice solo (created by the candidate, his or her teacher or peer, to music of their choice; in this case by teacher Angelique Harris), Freedom, The Tribute was equally dynamic and full of life, although I would have preferred a little less of the gymnastics. A dance Mokgatle has performed at competitions previously, it’s an obvious crowd-pleaser that fizzes and pops to great effect. It was no surprise when he also collected the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, voted for by the theatre audience and those watching on-line.
The Choreographic Award for the best Dancer’s Own variation went to someone not in the final, Jana Baldovino from New Zealand, although quite rightly she did get to dance it on the evening. Fandango, choreographed by herself and teacher Paula Hunt, was bursting with Spanish flair. Perhaps it’s just that the dancers want to show a broader range of skills, but this was almost alone in the section in being an out and out classical ballet piece.
Of the other Dancer’s Own solos from the finalists, Drew Jackson (the only British competitor who made it through) shone in his own creation, Chase, yet another excellent piece of student choreography to come out of the English National Ballet School. It was also excellent danced with some strong, controlled multiple turns.
Standing out for being very different was another dancer-made piece, Hush by Ishihara. Having walked on stage in sleepwear clutching a pillow, her dance to the Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma version of Hush Little Baby was full of gentle humour, an absolute delight, and brought a smile to everyone’s face.
One silver and one bronze medal were awarded, the silver going to Lania Atkins, who trains at The Dance Spot, Randwick in New South Wales, Australia. The bronze went to another Australian, Makensie Henson, who studies at Prudence Bowen Atelier of Mudgeeraba, Queensland.
While the judges were making up their minds, Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli of The Royal Ballet gave an excellent performance of the Balcony pas de deux from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. It can be difficult to get dances like this across fully when it comes out of context and with no set. So much of this dance in particular is in the body language. Cuthbertson was near perfect in getting across that sense of being thrilled but not knowing what to do; of wanting to look at Romeo but simultaneously being afraid to look. Even at the end there was still that sense of “My God, what was that?”
The 2016 Genée will take place in Australia, at the Sydney Opera House, from December 2-11.