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Critics' Circle National Dance Awards

A Personal View

by Maggie Foyer

January 2005

The glitzy National Dance Awards, hosted by the Critic’s Circle was in its element in the Vilar Floral Hall of the Royal Opera House. Adzido Dance Company gave a hearty welcome in the downstairs foyer. Dancing on the red plush carpet, they gave a short programme of innovative variants on traditional dance and some cutting edge, backyard urban. Upstairs in Covent Garden’s own crystal palace, the wine flowed and bite size tidbits circulated among the brightest and best of the dance world – including, of course, the critics. Marianela Nuñez was there, fresh as a daisy after her triumphant debut as Lise in Ashton’s "Fille" the night before. Her name wasn’t on the list of nominations, but I bet it will be next year.

Although the event tended to be somewhat balletocentric, within those limits it did extend across the spectrum, from the tiniest little boys and girls performing careful RAD set dances to those at the top of their careers. Leanne Benjamin the winner of the Richard Sherrington Award for Best Female Dancer, has travelled that long road; from RAD student to Genée winner and on through the ranks of the Royal Ballet. Returning after the birth of her baby, her developing artistry teamed with a consistently excellent technique, has ratcheted her up to new heights.

Apart from the obvious awards for top dancers and choreographers, there were some novel ideas like the prize for a dance company specially chosen by audiences. For anyone who travels up north (yes, I know some lucky people already live there!) to see Northern Ballet Theatre perform to their loyal and enthusiastic home crowd, it would come as no surprise that they were the winners.

Stephen Daldry made an impassioned plea against the ‘ridiculous prejudice’ attached to boys who dance and awarded the Billy Elliot prize to Taylor Davies, a 13-year-old from Swansea. Daldry is directing the musical version of the film due to open in March. Young Davies appeared quite undaunted by his surroundings, not so little Abbie Hastings who had proved her tenacity by winning the award for high achievement in the face of exceptional difficulties, but baulked at the sight of the microphone.

Dame Alicia Markova the founding patron of the critic’s circle has sadly left us to join the celestial company on high. Dame Beryl Grey who now takes on the role, gave an eloquent eulogy on the legacy of Britain’s first ballerina. Estelle Morris, Minister for the Arts, was there to give a government perspective. She made soothing noises about greater acknowledgement for dance and we hope that the people who hold the purse strings were listening. Half the fun was created by those who presented the award. Lionel Blair gave the musical theatre award to Matthew Bourne and his ‘Play without Words’ company. Unfortunately he couldn’t be persuaded to go once around the floor with Angela Rippon who chaired the event. Irek Mukhamedov raised female pulses, Tamara Rojo added the drama and Cathy Marston had the boots – a design event on their own. My personal prizes for gracious acceptance go to Amy Hollingsworth who bubbled over with an enthusiasm as genuine as her award winning performances and Sir Peter Wright. He said out loud what I am sure each of the winners felt, ‘This is a great boost to my ego.’ Even better, he went on to say that he hadn’t finished yet and would go on as long as peopled asked him. A wonderfully positive note to end on!

The winners of the 2004 Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards are:

De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance
Sir Peter Wright, Director Laureate of Birmingham Royal Ballet

Best Male Dancer
Jonathan Cope, for performances as a Principal of The Royal Ballet

Richard Sherrington Award for Best Female Dancer
Leanne Benjamin, for performances as a Principal of The Royal Ballet

Working Title Billy Elliot Prize
Taylor Davies

Sunday Express National Dance Award for Children
Abbie Hastings

Audience Award, supported by and Dance UK
Northern Ballet Theatre

Dance UK Industry Award
Dick Matchett

Best Choreography (Classical)
Christopher Wheeldon, for "Rush" for San Francisco Ballet

Best Choreography (Modern)
Javier de Frutos, for "Elsa Canasta" commissioned by Rambert Dance Company and "Milagros" commissioned by Royal New Zealand Ballet

Best Choreography (Musical Theatre)
Matthew Bourne and the Company, for "Play Without Words" at the Royal National Theatre

Outstanding Female Artist (Modern)
Amy Hollingsworth, for performances with Rambert Dance Company

Outstanding Male Artist (Modern)
Paul Liburd, for performances with Rambert Dance Company

Outstanding Female Artist (Classical)
Lauren Cuthbertson, for performances as a Soloist with The Royal Ballet

Outstanding Male Artist (Classical)
Thiago Soares, for performances as a First Soloist with The Royal Ballet

Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Classical)
The Royal Ballet

Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Modern)
Rambert Dance Company

Best Foreign Dance Company
Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for performances at the Barbican

For more details about the Awards, including a full list of the 2004 nominations and past winners, can be found on the National Dance Awards website, please click here.

Edited by Jeff.

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