Bharatanatyam and Kathak feature in new BBC Young Dancer 2015 Award contest
- Chitra Sundaram

May 27, 2015

On the 9th May2015, dance lovers in Britain – and anyone else who tuned in – possibly witnessed dance history in the making: the grand final of The BBC Young Dancer of the Year contest.  It took place at Sadler’s Wells in London, the nation’s preeminent home of dance, with a veritable Who’s Who in dance for an audience, and a live telecast to an audience of millions hosted by none other than Darcey Bussell, principal dancer for 20 years at the Royal Ballet and widely acclaimed as one of the great British ballerinas and well-known TV personality Zoë Ball.

The competition was a milestone for Kathak and Bharatanatyam in the UK, and for category winner and grand finalist Vidya Patel from Birmingham, being showcased alongside western dance forms by one of most influential media organisations in the world, the BBC. Vidya’s presentation included two works by her teacher Sujata Banerjee and a specially commissioned solo choreographed on her by Urja Desai.

‘Young Dancer’ is a belated companion to the much-vaunted 30-year old BBC Young Musician competition, which has discovered and launched many a world-traversing career by the showcasing of the UK’s brightest young musical talent between the ages of 16 and 20; now the hope is the same for dance.

Four dance categories were featured in the competition - Contemporary, Ballet, Hip Hop, and South Asian which included Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Between October 2014 when the brand new award was announced and the Grand Final in May 2015, each of the categories put aspirants through a two-stage run-off and an onstage category final before a live audience. They were mentored throughout the time, working with their own teachers; the grand finalists each had a new piece created for them by a BBC appointed top choreographer within the genre. Bharatanatyam and contemporary dancer Seeta Patel, and Kathak and contemporary dancer-choreographer Aakash Odedra were the South Asian category mentors.

Finalists of South Asian Category - Lakshmi Ranjan, Jaina Modasia, Sivani Balachandran, Vidya Patel, Anaya Bolar
Photo: Courtesy BBC

Vidya Patel (Winner of South Asian dance category final)
 Photo Credit © BBC Ellis Parrinder

The South Asian final took place in April in Newport, Wales and featured Sivani Balachandran (18), Middlesex, student of Usha Raghavan; Anaya Bolar (17), Birmingham, student of Chitraleka Bolar; Jaina Modasia (20), Watford, and Vidya Patel (19), Birmingham, students of Sujata Banerjee, both graduates of DanceXchange’s Centre for Advanced Training, Birmingham ; and Lakshmi Ranjan (18), London, student of Pushkala Gopal. Each dancer performed 3 pieces for a total of 12 minutes to recorded music including one duet with another dancer or live musician.

Category judges Pratap Pawar and Mira Balchandran Gokul, Bharatanatyam dancer and co-Artistic Director of Sankalpam, were joined by Kenneth Tharp, Chief Executive of The Place, who judged across all of the Category Finals. This event was recorded and telecast on May 1, along with a short ‘documentary’ lead up to each of the five dancers and, reportedly, had the largest viewing of all the category final telecasts.

Speaking of the curiously long deliberations among the three judges at this category final, Mira said: “We had to be very careful to separate the talent of the dancer from the showcasing of clever or better-suited choreography! We are very happy with our pick of Vidya Patel as South Asian category winner.”

Sadler’s Wells and the grand final on May 17th was the place to be so far this year. Low one-price tickets for the event especially subsidised by the BBC as public broadcaster were snapped up months in advance and there was a lot of last minute jostling to get one!

BBC Young Dancer 2015 Judges - Alistair Spalding, Kenrick Sandy, Tamara Rojo, Wayne McGregor, Mavin Khoo and Matthew Bourne
Photo Credit © BBC Guy Levy

The judging panel for the grand final was an unprecedented coming together of celebrity artists and choreographers from each category and artistic directors: Artistic Director of New Adventures, choreographer & director Matthew Bourne; Choreographer & director Wayne McGregor;Ex-prima ballerina and English National Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo; Dancer, choreographer, founder of Boy Blue Entertainment and street dance idol Kenrick Sandy, and Alistair Spalding, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Sadler's Wells. (Shobana Jeyasingh was a celebrity presence and interviewed by the evening’s TV hosts, as were mentors and others.)

Finalists of all categories - Harry Barnes, Archie Sullivan, Connor Scott,
Jacob O’Connell, Vidya Patel, Kieran Lai
Photo Credit © BBC Ellis Parrinder

Connor Scott being presented with his award by Carlos Acosta
Photo Credit © BBC Guy Levy

Artistic Director of ZFin Malta dance ensemble, Bharatanatyam and contemporary artist Mavin Khoo was a late addition to the judging panel for the live Grand Final, in place of Akram Khan who pulled out due to an unforeseen change in his tour schedule, and contributed via a documentary.

Speaking to the BBC, Mavin said: “An award like this provides the opportunity for a South Asian dancer to be an equal; to be judged on merits that are determined by artistic quality, virtuosity and excellence."

Connor Scott, a contemporary dancer aged 16, from Dance City’s Centre for Advanced Training based in New Castle, is the winner of the BBC Young Dancer 2015. Connor, the youngest amongst other contestants – was ironically one of two wild card entries from across categories.

It is interesting to note that quarter of the semi-finalists, half of the finalists and the winner of BBC Young Dancer 2015 have been students of one of the national Centres for Advanced Training in Dance, an initiative of the Department of Education’s Music and Dance scheme.

Of course, there are a lot of folks in the Indian dance world saying how their decades of “hard work” and “investment” have paid off.  We have come full circle, back to (openly mining) the classical! Yes, but it needed and took the Establishment to anoint, and who better than the BBC – even if we now have a new Culture Minister who is not its fan!