Bourne's Red Shoes and Khan's Giselle triumph at National Dance awards

Zenaida Yanowsky and Liam Riddick take top dancer prizes, while Lez Brotherston wins outstanding contribution award

We know that certain stories and certain archetypes have a strong hold on the dance imagination. We also know that when choreographers work with narrative it’s often easiest for them to pin the beautifully ambiguous language of the body on to the bones of familiar characters and plots. Even so, it’s startling to see how many of the winners at this year’s National Dance awards have been linked to productions that have revived, remade or re-imagined old works.

Both of the main choreography awards, for classical and contemporary dance, have gone to new creations based on 19th-century ballets, Akram Khan’s Giselle and Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake. While the two choreographers transformed and transcended their sources to tell very 21st-century stories about migration, inequality, sexual abuse and power, while working at the top of their individual stylistic games, there is no question that the iconography and narrative of the original works played a key role in their vision.

42nd Street won the award for outstanding company.
42nd Street won the award for outstanding company. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Meanwhile, the two awards for outstanding performance in a contemporary dance role have gone to shows that make a similar homage to the past: the women’s award to Ashley Shaw, heroine of Matthew Bourne’s funny and moving retelling of the film The Red Shoes (itself inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale); the men’s to Robert Fairchild, the romantic lead in Christopher Wheeldon’s clever remaking of the musical An American in Paris. The award for outstanding company went to the cast and creative team of 42nd Street, the West End revival of yet another classic (this year, incidentally, marking a prominence for musical theatre at the awards).

All of this may reflect a vein of nostalgia in the critics’ voting choices, but it would be overstating the case to suggest that the dance profession as a whole is undergoing some radical regressive shift. Among the shortlisted nominees and winners there are plenty of works that owe little or nothing to the past, including two epically ambitious ballets by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite; Arthur Pita’s savagely funny Stepmother/Stepfather (which helped get HeadSpace Dance its award for best independent company) and Michael Clark’s to a simple rock’n’roll … song (whose louche, limpid choreography failed to get an award but helped dancer Harry Alexander win the prize for emerging talent).

Among the other winners, it’s good to see the frequently nominated Liam Riddick, a supremely elegant exponent of Richard Alston’s choreography, take the award for best male dancer and Zenaida Yanowsky win best female dancer, both for the riches of her 23-year career with the Royal Ballet and for her outstanding farewell season. Finally, Lez Brotherston is the much-deserved winner of the Ninette de Valois award for outstanding contribution to dance – his marvellously imagined, supremely efficient designs are a crucial ingredient to the globally successful productions of Matthew Bourne.

Harry Alexander in a simple, rock ‘n’ roll … song.
Winner, emerging talent: Harry Alexander in a simple, rock ‘n’ roll … song. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The full list of winners

Best male dancer: Liam Riddick

Best female dancer: Zenaida Yanowsky

Outstanding company: 42nd Street

Best classical choreography: Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet

Best modern choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala for Teac Damsa

Emerging talent: Harry Alexander, dancer with Michael Clark and Julie Cunningham companies

Outstanding classical performance, female: Alina Cojocaru as Giselle in Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet

Outstanding classical performance, male: Marcelino Sambé as Colas in the Royal Ballet’s production of La Fille Mal Gardée

Outstanding contemporary performance, female: Ashley Shaw as Vicky Page in Matthew Bourne’s Red Shoes for New Adventures

Outstanding contemporary performance, male: Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris

Best independent company: HeadSpaceDance

Ninette de Valois award for outstanding contribution to dance: Lez Brotherston


Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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