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National Dance Awards 2016

Posted on February 6, 2017


The National Dance Awards for 2016 were announced at on February 6, 2017, in a ceremony where comment ranged from rose-patterned jackets to the impact of politics on the arts.

Hosted by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante of Boy Blue Entertainment, this year’s ceremony was held at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio in London. Presented by the dance section of the Critics’ Circle, the awards cover performances given in the UK from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016. Graham Watts, the chairman of the dance section, pointed out how international this year’s nominations were.

Sandy and Asante were cheerful hosts, striking the pose from the Deborah MacMillan painting that illustrates each trophy, and introducing themselves as “your Ant and Dec. But darker.” They had another angle on the internationalism of the awards, urging the audience to correct any mispronunciations.

The Emerging Artist Award, the first to be presented, is aimed at artists who are at the start of their careers, and is sponsored by the L&M Trust. The Royal Ballet’s Reece Clarke was this year’s winner. Accepting the trophy, Clarke hoped the audience could follow his “thick Scottish accent”, before thanking the company and his mum.

The award for Best Independent Company, sponsored by DWFM Beckman, went to Gary Clarke Company. Accepting the award, Clarke focused on his current show COAL, explaining the impact of the miners’ strike on his own community. He thanked the women’s groups and brass bands who have contributed to the production on tour, and described his pride at bringing ex-coal miners to see contemporary dance.

The award for Best Classical Choreography, sponsored by the Ballet Association, went to Jonathan Watkins for 1984, created for Northern Ballet. “I really didn’t expect this!” Watkins said. He thanked David Nixon, Northern Ballet’s director, for his support for the production, and Northern Ballet’s dancers for bringing it to life. He also underlined the production’s relevance in today’s political climate. George Orwell’s novel has returned to the bestseller lists in the wake of the US 2016 election: “I’d love to take the production to America,” Watkins said.

Jonathon Young won the Outstanding Male Performance (Modern) award, sponsored by the Critics’ Circle. Alistair Spalding of Sadler’s Wells accepted on Young’s behalf, pointing out how remarkable it is that Young, not trained as a dancer, should have made such an impact in Betroffenheit, directed and choreographed by Crystal Pite. Spalding read a message from Young, which offered “deep pliés to my fellow dancers, and tendus to the technical crew”, before praising Pite as an artist and a friend.

The Royal Ballet’s Zenaida Yanowsky won Outstanding Female Performance (Classical), sponsored by Lee McLernon, for her performance in Will Tuckett’s Elizabeth. “I lost my voice last week,” Yanowsky said, still sounding husky, “and now I’m lost for words.” She called the arts a universal identity in difficult times.

The Dance Europe Award for Best Modern Choreography went to Kim Brandstrup’s Transfigured Night, created for Rambert. Brandstrup thanked Rambert director Mark Baldwin for suggesting this Schoenberg score, admitting that he had had doubts about taking on such famous music, which has already formed the basis of several successful dance works. Brandstrup said that, finding his own way through the score, he found new things in the music, and in himself.

Cesar Corrales won the award for Outstanding Male Performance (Classical) for the role of Ali in English National Ballet’s production of Le Corsaire. Accepting the award, Corrales thanked his family, and said he was grateful to be here with so many great and inspiring artists: “Please, keep being great.”

Ching-Ying Chien won Outstanding Female Performance (Modern) for Until the Lions for Akram Khan Company, which is currently on tour. She sent a message, thanking her family, mentors and other supporters from around the world. She paid particular tribute to her co-star Christine Joy Ritter, also nominated in this category, thanking her for her “strong energy” on stage.

Christopher Hampson, director of Scottish Ballet, was there to introduce the One Dance UK Industry Award, given in memory of Jane Attenborough and sponsored by Sprizzato. This award recognises the work of a member of the dance industry. Hampson remembered his own first day at Scottish Ballet, when he had been greeted by this year’s winner, the dancer and teacher Brenda Last, who was there to be interviewed for a documentary. “She said, ‘Hello, Hampie,’ and I stood up a little straighter,” he remembers. He praised Last’s long and impressive career, “full of vigour, full of rigour”.

Accepting the award, Last marked 60 years since she was a founding member of Western Theatre Ballet, the company that went on to become Scottish Ballet. She also paid tribute to Biddy Pinchard, her own first dance teacher, “when I was four years old with one leg in callipers”, and to dance teachers who discover, encourage and support the dancers in their care.

The Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward won the Grishko Award for Best Female Dancer, given in memory of Richard Sherrington. “I’m glad I’m a dancer, not a public speaker,” she admitted, accepting the award, and thanked The Royal Ballet and her family.

There were gasps as well as warm applause for the announcement of the Dancing Times Award for Best Male Dancer, which went to Chase Johnsey of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male comic ballet company. Johnsey thanked the Critics’ Circle for recognising the hard work and care that he and the company put into performing ballet: the Trocks may laugh at the art form, but they love it, too. He thanked artistic director Tory Dobrin, who “believed in me from the time I was 17”, and also his husband, who had come to the ceremony with him. Sandy and Assante also led an extra round of applause for Johnsey’s beautiful blazer, a tailored jacket in a fabric patterned with roses. “Can we discuss shopping afterwards?” Kenrick asked. “I want one of those, maybe in blue…”

The Stef Stefanou Award for Outstanding Company went to English National Ballet. “I have a huge speech,” artistic director Tamara Rojo said, cheerfully holding up her page of notes. “You’ll have to be patient.” Describing the company’s recent successes, she mentioned Akram Khan’s Giselle, cheekily adding, “hopefully I’ll be talking about that here next year!”

Critic Luke Jennings introduced the winner of the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement, Dame Beryl Grey. Jennings looked back to Grey’s early training, when she daydreamed that one day Margot Fonteyn might fall ill, and she might step in for her. Then it happened: at 14, Grey replaced Fonteyn at a day’s notice in the lead role in Swan Lake. On the grounds that “there is nothing like two Dames”, Dame Monica Mason presented the award to Dame Beryl, who was greeted with a standing ovation. Grey said that she was “honoured to be remembered” among today’s artists, pointing out how many new movements and ideas are developing dance now. “Dance brings everyone together,” she said.

The winners of the 2016 National Dance Awards

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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