Emerging Arts Critics Programme

Harbingers of the Future

Dancers in the Bruhn Competition By Sebastiano Bazzichetto
  • Natasha Sheehan and Angelo Greco of San Francisco Ballet in Foragers by Myles Thatcher / Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

The future of ballet holds great promise, judging from what was on display last Tuesday during the evening of the Twelfth International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize.

First held in Toronto almost thirty years ago, the competition was established to honour Bruhn, former artistic director of The National Ballet of Canada and a man whose name became legendary soon after his death. The soirée presents some of the most gifted young dancers from companies with which Bruhn was associated, showcasing their talent in competition with classical as well as new contemporary repertoire. Choreographers of the contemporary works also compete for a choreographic prize.

The curtain at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts rose to reveal the dancers of tomorrow: five young pairs between eighteen and twenty-three years of age, from five world-renowned ballet companies.

As the classical portion of the event unfolded, the self-confidence and articulate technique demonstrated by each pair gave an impressive spark to the competition. For instance, in the Flower Festival in Genzano that opened the evening, Madoka Sugai and Christopher Evans from the Hamburg Ballet amazed the audience with their brisk jumps and palpable chemistry. From the American Ballet Theatre, Gabe Stone Shayer and Cassandra Trenary performed the “Bluebird” pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, in which Shayer’s several vigorous entrechats six significantly stood out. From the San Francisco Ballet, Natasha Sheehan’s high, extended développés were exquisite, as was her partner Angelo Greco’s vibrancy and precision. Their interpretation bore gravitas and elegance, doing justice to the excerpt from Giselle they performed. Greco’s silent and controlled jumps are also worth mentioning.  Chisato Katsura and Harrison Churches represented The Royal Ballet with a pas de deux also from The Sleeping Beauty, Act III. Calley Skalnik and Félix Paquet represented The National Ballet of Canada and performed a brilliant pas de deux from Le Corsaire, showing command in their fervent variations that brought the house down.

With duets commissioned specifically for the occasion, the real treat of the event was the contemporary portion that further highlighted the dancers’ dramatic skills. Moreover, their brilliant technique emphasized the innovative features of the contemporary works in terms of narration. Just to mention a few, Remember, choreographed by Marc Jubete for the Hamburg Ballet, staged a fascinating struggle between the two sexes that eventually became a single, blended figure. From the American Ballet Theatre, through his The Story of… Jeffrey Cirio gave shape to a relationship between dancers and lights that flowed smoothly as the piece harmoniously unfolded on stage. Lizst’s captivating tune Liebestraum No. 3 (in German, “Love Dream”) was the ideal theme for the story of two bodies in a long-lasting embrace in Foragers, choreographed by Myles Thatcher from the San Francisco Ballet.

While the artistic directors of the participating companies were casting their votes, Erik Bruhn was honoured through a screening of excerpts from Lennart Pasborg’s documentary about him, I’m the Same, Only More (Denmark, 2000). The very last part of the night hailed the contest’s winners, announced by the evening’s host, National Ballet Principal Dancer Jillian Vanstone.

Marc Jubete won the prize as best choreographer for his captivating work. Sheehan and Greco received the awards for best female and male dancer, and rightly so for great commitment, hard work and passion were exceptionally remarkable in their performances.

The young dancers’ passion for ballet, reflecting Bruhn’s own, shone through the vibrant performances of the event, and the competition proved to be an evening of galvanizing and stimulating artistry. The five companies involved in the contest undoubtedly presented their finest young members, true harbingers of the future of ballet, empowered with inestimable passion and committed to the art that speaks volumes with no words. 


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