Choreography - Winner 1997
The Australian-born dancer and choreographer Jeremy James performed with some of Britain's leading groups - the Rambert Dance Company, the Siobhan Davies Dance Company, the Arc and DV8. Thus his first attempts at choreography were made in the spaces of a busy dancing career.
James was that rare thing - a gifted stage performer who turned out to be equally talented at making dance for others. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he became well-known to British audiences as one of the most interesting modern dancers on stage. His style of movement was shaped by a classical discipline, coloured by a dark energy and a sardonic wit that were very much his own.
Even in abstract works, he communicated the force of an intelligent and highly unpredictable personality, so his audience never quite knew when the brooding edginess of his expression would lighten with a flash of humour. He was a dance-maker with a passion for structure, and, in his recent works especially, won critical acclaim for the formal intricacy and emotional resonance of his compositions.
The bold physicality of James's style looked entirely modern, but he was actually trained in classical ballet. He attended both the upper and lower schools of the Royal Ballet and, after graduating in 1980, perfomed with London City Ballet (the small-scale touring company directed by Harold King), then with Australian Ballet and Western Australian Ballet.
During these years he danced several leading roles, including James in La Sylphide, Blue Bird in Sleeping Beauty and the Prince in Nutcracker. But his essentially maverick style was not suited to the traditional aesthetic of a ballet company, nor to its hierarchical structure, and in 1987 he returned to Britain to work in modern dance.
In 1996, he stopped working for other choreographers and concentrated on making his own work. His progress was fast, maturing in four years from a slightly self-conscious subversiveness to work that was rich in detail and controlled in energy. Most of his work was for his own group, though in 1998 he created a work for Rambert - Gaps, Lapse And Relapse - and was due to make another for that company later this year. In June, he was also due to premiere a work for the Royal Ballet at the Linbury studio theatre, his first return to the classical stage.
James's death was tragically premature for his family and friends. For the wider dance community, it also represents the loss of an exciting talent just as it was coming into its own.
Text by Judith Mackrill for The Guardian, Tuesday 18 April 2000