Let’s do the ending first, because the first BBC Young Dancer final has already been broadcast and the outcome is public knowledge – it was won by 17-year-old contemporary dancer Connor Scott – but also, because the result (no disrespect to Scott, who was rightly a popular choice) is not the most interesting thing about the contest. Sure, the format is easy to grasp and delivers a kick, but that is not what makes BBC Young Dancer really worthwhile.
It’s great to see six finalists from four different dance styles: contemporary, South Asian dance, hip-hop and ballet. It opens your eyes to the range of what dance can be, and to the difficulty of judging one form against another. That makes the performances harder to assess – but easier to appreciate. So too does the variety of numbers that the competitors present: a self-chosen solo, a duet and a final solo created for each of them by a guest choreographer. Different dancers shine in different numbers.
For me, the two contemporary dancers were best in their own solos, which showcased Scott’s whiplash fearlessness and Jacob O’Connell’s rangy technique and commanding presence; but they were under-served by the somewhat aimless choreography of their new solos, by Patricia Okenwa and Alexander Whitley respectively. However, Archie Sullivan (ballet), Vidya Patel (kathak) andKieran Lai (hip-hop) all seemed to discover something fresh and surprising in their second solos: Kristen McNally coaxed an edgy, hipster cool from classical Sullivan; Patel looked liberated by Urja Desai Thakore’s freeform treatment of kathak; and Lai was transfigured in Tony Adigun’s work, which steered his slick popping technique away from its novelty-act tendencies and towards a sophisticated exploration of rhythm.
I’m not sure how useful the duets were. Ballet has its codified partnering technique, hip-hop its improvisational battle format; the other duets veered too much towards doubled-up solos. The one constant of the evening was Harry Barnes (hip-hop) as the most consistently personable performer, with the easiest audience rapport. Indeed, the whole event had a generous and genuinely supportive atmosphere, both on stage and in the auditorium. It was a boost not only for the entrants, but in many ways for dance itself.
Two gripes, though: first, it’s good that the prize includes a career development programme, but the money – £3,000 for the final winner, £1,000 for each of the semi-final winners – won’t go far towards professional dance study. Second, there was one woman among the six finalists, and one among the six judges; how does this woeful under-representation keep happening?