BBC Young Dancer 2019
18 May 2019
Reviewed by Pamela Covey
Pamela Covey was the proofreader of Pulse for thirteen years and her knowledge of South Asian dance was imbibed from the compulsory reading. Now housebound, she first saw this form of dance when the BBC Young Dancer burst onto our screens in 2015.
Watching ballet in her youth had been Pamela’s passion and she found that ballet and South Asian dance stood out for her in the mix of styles offered. However, the BBC Young Dancer is challenging her views, as it is for the audiences nationally.
Here are her responses to the BBC Young Dancer Finals held on Saturday 18 May at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
I thought it best to write this piece straight after watching tonight’s Grand Final; despite making notes after each performance, I wanted to express my thoughts from fresh memories and impressions. The following appears in reverse order of my personal preferences and likes/dislikes, which, as always, didn’t exactly tally with those of the judges!
I would have to put Street dancer Thomas Carsley in last place; not that he is a bad dancer by any means, but his three performances just didn’t make any real impression on me. I really didn’t ‘get’ his storytelling in the first piece, and his duet just didn’t make me feel or think anything in particular. However, I thought his second solo was much more expressive and seemed to show much more forethought and skill with the choreography.
My fourth-place contender was Contemporary dancer Matthew Rawcliffe. In his second piece – the duet – I actually preferred the performance of his excellent partner, and in his second solo I just couldn’t connect his dancing or choreography with the chosen song. However, to my great surprise as Contemporary is not my favourite category, I found his portrayal of Alan Turing’s life and its extraordinary story very emotional: the anguish and feelings were beautifully expressed. So well done Matthew; that’s a first for me with Contemporary dance! That was an extraordinary choice of character to portray in any dance form, and I applaud how successfully Matthew played the part.
My ‘bronze medal’ goes to Ballet finalist Chloe Keneally, who I think has extraordinary abilities and talent for her young age. Her first two performances were a joy to watch in terms of technique, poise and balance; indeed, I felt she might have been giving a master-class in ballet technical skills. Unfortunately, I also felt both those dances were lacking something of the charisma which one of the judges said was one of their main criteria in performance assessment. However, for me Chloe redeemed herself in her final piece which I found not just skilful in its execution but also a beautiful expression of feelings in movement while losing nothing in terms of technical excellence.
Now for my dispute with the judges, as I must put the overall winner Max Revell in my personal second place, although it didn’t surprise me at all to see him take the prize. His first solo – ‘Subject No. 6’ – was a remarkable piece of storytelling, especially in the Street category which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that skill. The duet that followed was entertaining as well as clever, and the audience clearly appreciated it as much as I did. Max’s second solo was like watching a whole other master-class: how to avoid tying oneself up in knots with those lengths of elastic fabric! Judging by his make-up – more apparent in his post-performance interview – I presume the concept was that of turning oneself into a marionette, and his execution of this was quite astonishing. Without doubt he is a very talented young man and I’m sure he will go on into a successful dance career.
Last but definitely first for me, my shining star of the Grand Final was the amazing Shree Savani, who surely started off on her back foot (no pun intended) by being the first South Asian performer to take bharatanatyam into the Grand Final. Not only that, but I still can’t help thinking that despite the multi-ethnicity of Britain today, the South Asian dancers are still at a slight disadvantage in that whichever dance style they have chosen, it will always require some greater degree of understanding than the other three Young Dancer categories which are surely better-known to the public in general. Speaking just for myself, if I hadn’t spent so many years working on Pulse magazine, South Asian dance would be much further off my personal radar.
Back to Shree, who frankly took my breath away (and no, no-one at Kadam is bribing me to say this!). Although I’m nowhere near an expert and never will be, as an audience member I honestly couldn’t fault any of Shree’s performances. In the first, she was wonderfully expressive – her face spoke volumes by itself – but what impressed me most was her synchronicity with the music and the precision of her movements; I thought she could almost rival the Street dancers in this respect. The following duet was simply a beautiful and moving piece of storytelling: given the rather limited time frame, I was amazed by the detail crammed into that performance and I felt the ‘mother/daughter’ balance was just right, so Shree was perfectly complemented by her excellent partner Shreya who didn’t ‘steal the limelight’. The second solo was something of a surprise; possibly frowned upon by bharatanatyam purists, but I loved Shree’s idea of ‘pushing the boundaries’ and it worked for me.
Obviously I would have been thrilled to see a South Asian dancer as the overall winner – especially one bringing a different style to the forefront – but in fairness I think Max was a deserving winner, and all those taking part demonstrated differing levels of differing skills, making them all worthy finalists.
Huge thanks to the BBC for this fantastic competition, and a marvellous piece of Saturday night viewing. With no disrespect to the counterpart series BBC Young Musician, I only wish Young Dancer could be an annual event!
The opinions expressed in this write up are purely those of the reviewer and Pulse played no part in it.