Reckless the Man!
Young British Dancer of the Year 2006
Teenagers are by definition NOT adults. They have not the developed strength, musculature or coordination to pull off tour de force without storing up risk of future injury. A lad may compete today, do well, and come down with a stress fracture in six months, on account of having practised tour de force 73 times a day. Or he may come down with a serious injury two years hence, the etiology of which may not be seem traceable.
In the medium to long term, over-strain as a teenager may shorten one's career as an adult by several years. Competitions are a major factor in such strain.
So on Saturday night, we were treated to fifteen-year olds naively staggering through Petipa's beautiful variations, that have been danced by the century's greatest artists.
Of course the youngsters can do the steps, and prettily at that, but by the skin of their teeth. Why not choose simple, elegant variations from unfamiliar repertory, where the criteria will be musicality, line, placement, coordination, petite batterie and ballon, rather than cast youth into a sea of boiling pitch?
That being said, these young English dancers are, plainly, trained to take their orders from the music, an agreeable change to ears and eyes now more accustomed to see dancers thrust themselves upon it, Continental-style.
Also, the English girls are, fortunately, still trained to hold the foot straight in the shoe on pointe, and not spill over to get the "big arch" look so wearing on bone and ligament. And many details - in the eye, the hand, the port de bras - gone lost from the variations as danced in the Nureyev Extravaganzas, have been kept in England. All encouraging.
But, at the end of the day, England is not immune to the "Globalised" Big Brother style that has swept the profession - sky-high extensions, épaulement downgraded to a tacked-on feature, and of course, hyper-laxity.
Should any Director of a major school purport to swim against the tide, he finds himself confronting a shrill lobby, who claim that the classical dance "industry" (sic) in today's "globalised, competitive" world, were best turned over to experts in sports psychology, behavioural science, bio-mechanics etc. One such lobbyist is Jeffrey Taylor, whom we see here (extracts from a 2005 Telegraph newspaper article), praising the Vaganova School for the "punishment" allegedly inflicted on its students in guise of pedagogy,
"The contrast with what goes on elsewhere is very marked. Three years ago I watched a class of boys at the Vaganova Academy [St Petersburg's top school].
"They were being worked into the ground. They were crippled, sweating wrecks. And then their teacher turned to me and said, 'When the physical gives out, that is when the artist appears'."
Or the major, crippling, career-ending accident ?
But where would we all be without singularities ?
The Competition was won, hands down, by a youth of sixteen called James Hay. Judging by his appearance, he may be of Iranian or otherwise Middle Eastern origin. The lad went down onto the stage in James' Act I variation from Bournonville's version, and danced it as it should be danced. With épaulement in every step, dancing with the whole body rather than flinging the arms and legs about, dancing with the eyes, the face, carried on the music. Mr. Hay applied no force, nor did he inject needless energy.
In fact, James Hay reminds one of Emmanuel Thibault at the same age - than which, no comparison can be more flattering ! - that same light smile flickering over his features as he resolved each difficulty. And one smiles to think of it now !
Bravo to that lad's professors - for they are teaching him to DANCE.
The second prize went to a girl of sixteen from New Zealand, who joined the RBS in September. Delia Matthews, trained in her native country by one D. Gooch, shewed an unforced technical surety and an ability to dance a variation as a single thought, unusual in so young an artist, and recalling our own new première danseuse Dorothée Gilbert.
Footnotes to history : As M. Bertrand d'At announced the Jury's deliberations, he noted that to his mind, the standard of classical dancing in England is no lesser than in France, wryly adding something to the effect, that with the predominance of modern dance on the other side of the Channel … M. d'At left his thought unfinished - reckless the man who would finish it for him !