Posted on January 27, 2014
The winners of the 14th Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards (NDA), held on Monday, January 27 at The Place in London, described everything from the joy of dance to the need to pretty much kill yourself in performance. Decided by the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle, the awards recognise performances given between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013. The nominations were announced on November 8, 2013.
Kenneth Tharp, chief executive of The Place, welcomed nominees, critics and guests to the newly-refurbished theatre, pointing out the comfy new purple seats. “They can fold up at the touch of a button – though we’re not going to do that this afternoon…”
Graham Watts, chairman of the awards committee, pointed out that more than 200 nominations had been received, with shortlisted artists and companies from 14 countries and four continents. Today’s ceremony was hosted by former NDA winner Tommy Franzén and Bennet Gartside of The Royal Ballet, who opened the show with a comedy skit and ended it with a dance.
The De Valois Award for outstanding achievement is usually announced at the end of the ceremony. This time, it opened the awards: its winner, former Royal Ballet ballerina Leanne Benjamin, is studying for a graduate diploma in Architectural Design, and had to rush back for a tutorial. Sir Peter Wright presented the award to Benjamin, describing her as a dancer who “always went her own way”. “I still do!” she replied, going on to tell the story of her first promotion. She was late on stage for Les Patineurs, fell over and swore loudly – with De Valois in the audience! Wright told her that he had never been more embarrassed, that he had meant to promote her that day, “but now you’ll have to wait.” He relented after a week.
The Grishko Award for Best Independent Company went to BalletBoyz The TALENT. Kerry Whelan, the company manager, remembered when founders Michael Nunn and William Trevitt decided to step down from dancing and create a new company, The Talent. “We thought it was a great idea. No one else did!”
The Dancers Pro Award for Outstanding Modern Performance (female) went to Julie Cunningham for New Works 2012 with Michael Clark Company. “This is a huge deal for me,” she said, thanking Clark, her colleagues, and also the late Merce Cunningham, with whose company she danced for several years.
The award for Best Classical Choreography, sponsored by the Ballet Association, went to Christopher Wheeldon for Aeternum, created for The Royal Ballet. It’s the third time Wheeldon has won an NDA, but the first he has been able to accept in person. He said that he was grateful to have made Aeternum to a Benjamin Britten score in the year of the composer’s centenary.
The award for Best Modern Choreography, sponsored by Stef Stefanou, went to Russell Maliphant for Fallen, created for BalletBoyz The TALENT. Maliphant is currently at work in Munich, so the award was accepted by lighting designer Michael Hulls, who has worked long and closely with Maliphant.
Outstanding Male Performance (classical), sponsored by The Office for Architectural Culture, went to Nicolas Le Riche for Le Jeune homme et la Mort with English National Ballet. He spoke warmly of being in London, then added, “I wanted to tell you, I had to die for this award!”
The Dance UK Industry Award, given in memory of Jane Attenborough, went to Amanda Chinn, general manager of Scottish Dance Theatre. James MacGillvray accepted on her behalf.
Outstanding Female Performance (classical), sponsored by Lee McLernon, went to Yuan Yuan Tan for RAkU with San Francisco Ballet. Tan’s work schedule meant that she couldn’t get away from San Francisco to accept the award, so it was accepted for her by Debra Boraston, who represented the company on its recent visit.
The Dancers Pro Award for Outstanding Modern Performance (male) went to Paul White for Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle, a marathon solo dance to The Rite of Spring. “Sorry, I’m Australian, I only kiss once…” he explained after greeting the presenter, before saying, “Nicolas, I too have had to die, so maybe it’s a theme for this year.”
The Stef Stefanou Award for Outstanding Company went to the Mikhailovsky Ballet. The award was accepted by Misha Messerer, who said how touched he was that the “small” Mikhailovsky – only 142 dancers! – had won such a prestigious prize. “You’re laughing, but I know exactly how many dancers there are in my company,” Messerer explained. “The other Russian company who visited London, the Bolshoi, has 200, 300, they’re not sure…”
Our editor Jonathan Gray presented the Dancing Times Award for Best Male Dancer, dedicating it to the memory of David Wall. The award was won by Rambert’s Dane Hurst, who praised dance teachers, especially his own teacher Gwen Mary Wells, who had given him free classes in South Africa “when we didn’t have a cent to pay for them”. He spoke passionately of the importance of teachers, and of money for the arts: he had known other talented dancers who had not had his opportunities. Rambert has recently moved to its shiny new home on London’s South Bank, leaving its old Chiswick studios behind. Hurst hopes to have the Chiswick dance floor, and sound system, shipped to his home country where it can be made available for students. Of his own career, he said, “The work starts now, because I guess after this all eyes will be on me…”
The Grishko Award for Best Female Dancer, given in memory of Richard Sherrington, went to Natalia Osipova for her performances with the Mikhailovsky Ballet. She is now a member of The Royal Ballet, but could not attend the ceremony, as she was dancing Giselle that night – a performance that was screened live in hundreds of cinemas. Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, accepted on her behalf. He had met Osipova in the lift that morning: she was very sorry she couldn’t come, but had been quite certain she wasn’t going to win!
The ceremony ended with a second De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement, given to Matthew Bourne. “That was a surprise!” Bourne said. “I did make some notes, in case I won the other one” – he had been nominated for Best Modern Choreography earlier in the ceremony. “To be mentioned in the same breath as De Valois is incredible,” Bourne continued, “she was a woman who knew about running a company, and about bringing dance to the masses.” He thanked his New Adventures colleagues Scott Ambler, Etta Murfitt, Lez Brotherston and Robert Noble, and spoke about the joy of running a dance company. “I’ve had my ups and downs with the critics over the years,” he continued, “but one group has stuck by me: the audience.” He told the assembled critics: “You’ve been very kind to me today. I hope you continue to be kind!”
Wrapping up the ceremony, Tommy Franzén said, “The most important thing is that we’re doing something that makes us happy.” Then he and Gartside launched into a happy, happy dance.