SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals the identity of the BBC Young Dancer of the Year winner. If you’ve not seen the programme yet and want to, watch it on BBC iPlayer.
I attended the press launch for the BBC’s Song and Dance Season a few months back. There, the assembled journos and opinion formers watched as two young dancers leapt across the floor at Sadler’s Wells and performed a short routine. It was the first time in a long long time I had been quite so close to two human beings moving in an entirely such a fluid way and one so counter-intuitive to that which we all of us have hard-wired into our brains. I found it an incredibly arresting experience. When I explained afterwards to some associates of mine that it was that experience alone which hooked me into watching the BBC Young Dancer competition this year, the reaction I received was one of total surprise. There was an assumption in that reaction, I reckoned: how could a classical music fan be just as enthused by dance when he was a relative newcomer to it? I was quick to explain that it was people like me for whom the TV coverage of this competition was made for.
The category finals swiftly captured my attention. This was down, first, to a the gratifyingly stylish and sophisticated (though never po-faced) TV presentation style and then, after that, the compelling performances the dancers put on. That order of attention is important. To my mind (I’m a picky arts viewer), had the presentation style been that which followed the usual TV competition visual language then it would have jarred and distracted from the stunning agility, beauty and fluidity of the dance itself. The presentation style was therefore a vital pre-requisite, laying the ground and setting the tone appropriately, thus letting the real talent of the evening show itself.
Feeling as though I didn’t know anything about ballet, contemporary, street, or South Asian dance, I wondered whether I’d suffer. I didn’t. All the performances were visually compelling. All of them communicated a narrative which although may not have been immediately obvious to me, still resonated emotionally. There were endless performances I watched with my mouth open even if I wasn’t entirely sure what it was specifically that had captured my attention.
Looking back over the whole competition I am surprised and relieved how quickly I forgot it was a competition for ‘young people’. There was a maturity on stage which made me assume I was looking at professionals. Indeed, the performances themselves made me rather wish we saw more contemporary dance on screen – a method of storytelling which is surely worth exploring further.
In terms of television, the final was a particular pleaser. I appreciated Zoe Ball hosting proceedings from the stage (a master-stroke in terms of introducing the art form to a mainstream audience without it feeling like we were being patronised) and I especially liked the event being broadcast live, not least because when it came to announcing the winner there was a rather delightful hiatus of the kind that all too often is edited out of pre-records because of our obsession with perfection and a view that the audience may get a little confused if it’s not removed. The live final had a delicious sense of occasion about it even if I was watching it on catch up and had (thanks to those very same associates) been informed of the winner on Twitter.
Of the finalists performances, I particularly enjoyed Vidia Patel’s exquisite poise in her South Asian solo, Jacob O’Connell’s Trust is Born of Arguments and Kieran Lai’s brilliant Tinman reprised from the Hip Hop Category Final.
Connor Scott, winner of BBC Young Dancer 2015, presented some breathtaking performances. One of which brought a tear to my eye, something I didn’t expect to happen given that I am new to this art form. Clearly there was an emotional integrity to his solo and pas de deux which struck an emotional chord with me. I found his agility and commitment stunning and was delighted to see his reaction to winning at the end of the competition. A brilliant achievement.
I’ve really enjoyed the series. It is a testament to the efforts of the production team that the competition in its inaugural year has worked as well as it has. As a piece of TV arts entertainment too, it’s a bit of a triumph. It is exactly the kind of presentation I appreciate as an arts lover. Something of a benchmark.