The Tenth International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
November 28, 2012
by Denise Sum
copyright 2012 by Denise Sum
While the number of international ballet competitions continues to grow, the Erik Bruhn Prize sets itself apart. With only five pairs of dancers participating, it can feel more like a gala when compared to large competitions with multiple rounds. During a Ballet Talk with the artistic directors who would be judging the competition, almost all spoke of the process of being chosen and preparing the pas de deux for the competition as being more important than winning or losing. To make a point, Guillaume Côté, who hosted the talk, joked that he and David Hallberg (both participants in 2002) refer to themselves as "losers" -- Stuttgart Ballet's Friedemann Vogel won that year. The idea is comical given the many accomplishments both have had since then.
During his artistic directorship of the National Ballet of Canada, Erik Bruhn dedicated part of his estate to establish the Erik Bruhn Prize after his death. The competition includes a classical and contemporary component for one male and one female dancer, between the ages of 18 and 23, from different ballet companies that he had a relationship with:The NBoC, The Royal Danish Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, The Hamburg Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Stuttgart Ballet. This year the latter two companies were unable to attend.The competition is an exciting opportunities for young dancers who are not fully formed but have been chosen to represent their company because of their individuality and potential. The list of past winners reads like a who's who of the international ballet scene, including Silja Schandorff, Julie Kent, and Johan Kobborg to name a few. In 2009, a choreographic prize was added. For the contemporary section, each company commissions a new work to compete for the prize.
The competition began with the classical repertoire. The NBoC's Emma Hawes and Brendan Saye opened the evening with Erik Bruhn's staging of the white swan pas de deux from "Swan Lake". Before the adagio, Saye performed Siegfried's contemplative variation from Act 1. He is a tall dancer with beautiful lines and soft port de bras, certainly one to watch. His grand pirouettes were quite shaky, however this seemed more related to nerves than a lack of ability. Hawes, just 19 years old and in the company for one year, gave a surprisingly assured performance. Their partnering was somewhat timid -- cambrés were not as deep as they should be -- but this would likely improve with experience.
Next were ABT's Devon Teuscher and Calvin Royal III in the grand pas de deux from "Paquita". There was plenty of bravura technique from Teuscher, a gutsy dancer who oozes ballerina authority from the moment she steps on stage. She tossed off the obligatory fouettés, alternating singles and doubles, effortlessly. Her presence somewhat overpowered her partner, who had a bit of difficulty controlling his long limbs.
The following three companies all chose Bournonville pieces. The RDB's Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kaas performed the pas de deux from "The Kermesse in Bruges". This competition judges dancers individually, but as a couple, this pair had the strongest rapport. Watching their sweet and playful interactions was lovely. Both are petite, and fine exemplars of the Bournonville style, having come out of the Royal Danish Ballet School. The brilliant footwork, calm upper body, control, musicality and carefree demeanor were all there. Next, The Hamburg Ballet's Xue Lin and Aleix Martínez danced the "La Sylphide" pas de deux. She was weightless and otherworldly, while his dancing was powerful and explosive. He has an impressive jump and seems at home in the air, which was highlighted in his variation. Yet he appeared less comfortable in the partnering segments. Finally, the Royal Ballet's Francesca Hayward and James Hay performed a pas de deux from "Flower Festival in Genzano", taking advantage of coaching from Kobborg. Neither missed a beat, and of the men, Hay is the closest to having the full package of a true danseur noble.
In the contemporary repertoire, the RDB dancers stood out in a work by Danish Dance Theater's Alessandro Sousa Pereira paradoxically titled "Traditional". The androgynous pas de deux, danced in black pants and blazers with soft shoes, starts with the dancers' backs facing the audience. Tension builds gradually, mirrored in the cello-inflected music of Zoe Keating. The choreography was the most modern of the pieces presented. Lifts were unconventional and steps were unexpected and daring. There was an arc to the structure of this pas de deux that was lacking in some of the other pieces. Praetorius and Kaas shared the same great chemistry here and showed themselves as mature and versatile artists.
ABT commissioned "Depuis le Jour" by Gemma Bond. It was the most lyrical and romantic of the new works, with opera music by Gustave Charpentier. The audience could see a softer side of Teuscher, and Royal partnered her smoothly and admirably. The NBoC's Côté choreographed "Enkeli" to industrial sounding music by Amon Tobin, an edgy, animalistic pas de deux that brings to mind Crystal Pite's "Emergence" and works of William Forsythe. Saye looked more confident in this round and Côté's steps showed off Hawes' flexibility. Sasha Riva choreographed "Like a Petal in Deep Water" for Lin and Martínez. Riva's work is the most narrative, suggesting a story of unrequited love. I remember a lot of high extensions, but not much else in terms of the choreography. The Royal Ballet's Liam Scarlett created "November" for Hayward and Hay, an acrobatic pas de deux set to music by Max Richter.
Overall, the calibre of the dancing was excellent and the judges (Karen Kain, Nikolaj Hübbe, Kevin McKenzie, John Neumeier, and Kevin O'Hare) certainly did not have an easy job selecting the winners. In the end, the Danes swept all three prizes with compelling performances in both rounds. This is the first time that the male and female winners have come from the same company since 1995, when Jaimie Tapper and Johan Persson (then with NBoC) won. Audiences can hopefully look forward to seeing more of the participating dancers as they grow and develop from this experience.
The Tenth Erik Bruhn Prize winners are:
Best Female Dancer - Ida Paetorius (RDB)
Best Male Dancer - Andreas Kaas (RDB)
Choreography Award - Alessandro Sousa Pereira (RDB)
The Audience Choice winners (votes collected via text message and twitter) are:
Favourite Female Dancer - Emma Hawyes (NBoC)
Favourite Male Dancer - James Hay (RB)
Favourite Choreographer - Guillaume Côté (NBoC)
Alessandro Sousa Pereira, Ida Praetorius, and Andreas Kaas at the Awards Ceremony. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Isa Praetorius and Andreas Kaas of the Royal Danish Ballet in "Traditional". Photo by Bruce Zinger.