The six Emerging Dancer Award finalists. Laurent Liotardo, post production by Nik Pate, Courtesy ENB.

Meet the 2019 English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Award Finalists

For the past 10 years, English National Ballet's annual Emerging Dancer Awards have offered a unique opportunity for lower-ranking company members to step into the spotlight. This year's competition, held on May 7 at London's historic Sadler's Wells Theatre, features six finalists selected by their peers. If a quick trip to London's not in the cards, don't fear; ENB will live-stream the awards on their Facebook and YouTube pages starting at 7:25 pm BST (2:25 pm EST).

The young dancers will take the stage before a panel of expert judges in classical pas de deux and contemporary solos, in which they've been coached by their ENB colleagues. The program also includes an appearance from last year's winner, Daniel McCormick, who will dance a pas de deux from Don Quixote with ENB dancer (and 2017 Pointe Star of the Corps) Francesca Velicu. Get to know the six finalists below.



Alice Bellini

Alice Bellini joined ENB in 2017 after graduating from the Royal Ballet School. Before making her way to London, Bellini trained at the La Scala Ballet School in her native Milan. Since joining ENB, she has shone in roles like The Novice in Jerome Robbins' The Cage and the pas de deux in Aszure Barton's Fantastic Beings. Last year, Bellini won the People's Choice Award at the Emerging Dancer Competition, an honor earned through a public vote.

Bellini will dance Grand Pas Classique with finalist Shale Wagman as well as Danish choreographer Sebastian Kloborg's CLAN B.

Emilia Cadorin

Also from Italy, Emilia Cadorin joined ENB in 2015. Prior to that, she danced with Estonian National Ballet, Ballet Du Capitole, Toulouse and Teatro alla Scala. She trained at Il Balletto in Castelfranco Veneto, the northern Italian town where she grew up, and was a trainee with Boston Ballet. Cadorin's favorite ballets to dance include George Balanchine's Valse-Fantaisie, John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias and Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Elite Syncopations.

Cadorin will dance a pas de deux from Coppélia with finalist Rhys Antoni Yeomans as well as a solo titled BAM! choreographed by ENB first soloist Fabian Reimair, who also composed the music for the piece.

Julia Conway

Julia Conway, the third and final female contestant, hails from London. Before joining ENB in 2017, she trained with Olga Semenova and Young Dancers Academy, Magaly Suárez, Ayako Yamada and Isabelle Guérin, and at the Royal Ballet Upper School. Conway won first place at the 2014 World Ballet Competition and also came in first at Youth America Grand Prix Paris in 2015. At ENB, Conway's favorite roles are Princess Florine in MacMillan's Sleeping Beauty and the Pas de Trois in Derek Deane's Swan Lake.

Conway will dance Flames of Paris with finalist Rentaro Nakaaki as well as a solo by Rambert dancer Miguel Altunaga titled Untitled Code.

Rentaro Nakaaki

Rentaro Nakaaki is relatively new to ENB; he joined the company in 2018. From Osaka, Japan, Nakaaki trained at Sadamatsu Hamada Ballet School before graduating from English National Ballet School. In 2018, he came in first in the school's choreographic competition. He also placed second at YAGP Japan in 2015. Nakaaki loves powerful classical roles like Basilio, Ali and Romeo.

Nakaaki will dance Flames of Paris with Conway as well as Own, a solo choreographed by Nuno Campos.

Shale Wagman

Shale Wagman's name might sound familiar to you; this young Canadian dancer won first prize and the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Prize at the 2018 Prix de Lausanne. He was also the winner of the 2014 YAGP Youth Grand Prix Award. Since joining ENB in 2018, Wagman has danced roles including the Beggar Chief in MacMillan's Manon, Freddie, Spanish and Chinese in Wayne Eagling's Nutcracker, and the Pas de Trois and Neapolitan dance in Deane's Swan Lake.

Wagman will dance Grand Pas Classique with Bellini as well as Peculiar Mind, a solo choreographed by Nürnberg Ballet dancer Sofie Vervaecke.

Rhys Antoni Yeomans

From Manchester, UK, Rhys Antoni Yeomans joined ENB in 2017 after training at Centre Pointe in Manchester and the English National Ballet School. Standout roles so far include the tap dancing Mad Hatter in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Oberon in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Dream. Yeomans is passionate about more than ballet; he played the leading role in the West End's Billy Elliot and continues to cultivate his love for musical theater and tap.

Yeomans will dance a pas de deux from Coppélia with Cadorin as well as a solo from William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated.

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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