As viewers in the United Kingdom were settling down on Saturday evening to enjoy the annual BBC spectacle that is the final of Strictly Come Dancing, another dance competition of different nature was taking place too. The 15th Eurovision Young Dancers competition took place in the Czech capital city of Prague, the city that also hosted it in 2015.
This show is a highlight for me as a former dancer. I studied tap, ballet and modern as a child at the Lynton Stage School and then moved on to Hurley’s School of Dance to study Latin, Ballroom and modern jazz – I love to dance, I don’t really do it anymore, but of course, I can’t resist Eurovision Young Dancers as a showcase of modern dance performance from around the continent.
The rules are simple, all dancers must be between the ages of 16 and 21 and may compete as a solo performer or as a couple, no groups are allowed. None of the performers are allowed to be paid professional dancers, the contest is designed for amateurs.
Here Come The Dancers
This year’s contest actually saw the lowest number of participating countries with eight dancers taking to the stage, but this should not be seen as a cause of concern; numbers fluctuate, circumstances change and situations differ. In total 37 countries have participated over the years since the contest began in 1985 and as with all Eurovision events is open to any country who are member of the EBU.
On our first glimpse of the stage, if I’m being honest made me think of the pictures we’ve just seen of the stage in Lisbon for ESC 2018 and Junior Eurovision’s 2016 stage! We got an introduction to the performers (similar to the flag ceremony) they are introduced by name and country.
We then met our jury. Czech Daria Klimentová, having spent 18 years as a principal dancer with the English National Ballet, she retired in 2014 and is currently working at the Royal Ballet School in London. Itzik Galili, who wanted to be an astronaut but became one of Israel’s leading dancers and choreographers, what can I say the aeronautics industry’s loss is the arts industry’s gain! Ambra Succi a street dance and contemporary dance teacher from Italy, currently living and working in Sweden, Ambra choreographed Loreen to Eurovision victory in 2012 at the Eurovision Song Contest and has choreographed for a number of well known shows such as X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance and other Eurovision Song Contest performances.
Each solo item was separated by a postcard in true Eurovision style. I’ve very much appreciated these as they’ve shown of a city that I love very much, not least because it’s where my brother lives! If you’ve never been, don’t wait for a Eurovision event, it’s a great place for a weekend getaway.
Here’s my run down of the competitive performances, as they happened…
Norway – Anna Louise Amundsen ‘These Days’
Anna is in a white lyrical style of dress, the arches on the stage are like cracked metal. Norways dance is an absolute hybrid of lyrical, contemporary and jazz. There’s a little hint of Mathew Bourne style ballet. Daria is impressed with the jumps and thinks this is a very strong show opener. In her backstage interview immediately after performing, Anna Louise is happy with her performance and was excited by the challenge of opening the show.
Germany – Danila Kapustin ‘Desde Otello’
Danila is brave in his costume choice, white dance trousers and bare top. The lighting is very clever in the opening shots, flooded in red lighting and lit from above highlighting the bone and muscle structure of his body. As a student at the famous State Ballet School in Berlin, I was expecting something extremely balletic in presentation and this did not disappoint. Beautifully presented, but Ambra wants him to use more of his back and lower shoulders more.
Malta – Denise Buttigieg ‘Q. W’
Denise starts this strong, it’s hard for me to type as I watch because I just can’t take my eyes off the screen! She is in a soft brown/gold skater-style dress. The music is rhythmic with only spoken word, no sung lyric at all. This is absolute contemporary modern dance style, not balletic at all, Denise is incredibly flexible but has great control of that flexibility. Ambra doesn’t agree, she thinks that Denise needs to work on her strength and control.
Portugal – Raquel Fidalgo ‘Esquiva’
Fashion-lover Raquel in in green halter top and olive green dance trousers, the lighting is green and it all melds very nicely together. Coming from the contemporary dance world it is easy to see this influence on the way that Raquel moves. I like that she’s using levels of dance, from the floor all the way to maximum stretch for her as well as leaps and jumps. The music is pure drum rhythm of quite a Brazilian flavour. Itzik likes the combination of movement and rhythm. In her post-dance interview Raquel speaks of the friendships made with the other performers.
Group Dance #1
The first four competitors now take to the stage in a group dance which has been choreographed by Czech Petr Zuska. The dance has been rehearsed in a short time since arriving in Prague and is part of the judging process. In the group dances the judges are looking at how the performers work together with each other and the movements, also how they interact during lift and connected movements.
Poland – Paulina Bidzińska ‘La Certa’
Paulina comes from the world of classical ballet and her operatic music immediately confirm that this is where she is most comfortable. Paulina is really using her entire body her, limb extensions are wonderful and her musicality is probably the best I’ve seen so far. Ambra is impressed with the use of her spine to create the shaping in the dance.
Slovenia – Patricija Crnkovič ‘Disintergration’
Patricija has been here before, she represented Slovenia in 2013 at EYD. This dance is a piece of modern dance. Patricija is very expressive with her face as well as her body, her confidence also comes through the dance, there was no holding back at any point, she put everything she had into this dance. Itzik agrees that her facial expression along with her movement were very good.
Sweden – Christoffer Collins ‘Solo – X’
Christoffer is another very expressive dancer, he is wearing casual dance clothes, a plaid red and black shirt and black trousers. The music is very contemporary and ‘Swedish’ and the dance itself is super contemporary, I wonder if it might be a bit too alienating for casual viewers of the show but his body shaping is very good. Daria says it’s interesting, but she remains a little unmoved by the dance.
Czech Republic – Mical Vach ‘Monologue’
Dressed in all balck but using the light and shadows of the stage to add to this impressive piece of contemporary modern/jazz fusion. The music is a solo Cello which Michal seems to be very in tune with. The performance was very strong, yet there is a softness to Mical’s movements which is very compelling. Mical’s dance used almost the entire dance space available. Itzik was impressed with Mical and thinks that he has a bright future ahead of him as a dancer.
Group Dance #2
The second of the group dances also part of the judging process, this is not an interval act, it all counts towards the final scores. This group feature the most classically trained dancer and the most contemporary style dancer in the same group, so the choreography is designed to reflect that. It could have been easy with two boy/girl parings to make this dance a couples dance but it’s not. The four are actually beautifully choreographed together as a dance ensemble. Whilst you can see the ballet/contemporary strengths in each dancer, I personally prefer this to the first group piece.
The Dance Off
The jury now select two finalist who will go into a final dance off to determine the winner. Itzik reveals that the two finalists are Paulina from Poland and Patricija from Slovenia. The final dance off sees the two finalists performing a duet dance, using the same music that has been used in the group dancers.
The jury have decided the winner, it falls again to Itzik to reveal the winner as Paulina Bidzińska from Poland, this is Poland’s third win at Eurovision Young Dancers. The most successful country at Eurovision Young Dancers is Spain who have five wins in their belt although they have not participated in the contest since 1999.
Congratulations to Poland and to Paulina, and to Česká televize and the EBU for another fantastic show. I am looking forward to 2019 when we will see the next edition of Eurovision Young Dancers. All eyes turn now from this contest to the next of Eurovision’s special events; the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 from Lisbon.