BalletDanceNorth East & YorkshirePhysical TheatreReview

Ballet Black Triple Bill – Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

Founder &Artistic Director: Cassa Pancho MBE

Music: Steve Reich, Dustin O’ Halloran, Kurt Weill

Choreographer: Arthur Pita, Christopher Marney, Christopher Hampson

Reviewer: Beverley Haigh

Founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho with the intention of providing a platform for dancers of black and Asian origin, Ballet Black has become much more than this, carving out a niche for themselves. As a contemporary ballet company, their work encompasses both traditional and contemporary styles of dance, blurring the boundaries to create their own unique signature style of ballet.

Their current touring Triple Bill opens with Cristaux, an abstract piece choreographed by Arthur Pita, in a break from his usual style of narrative-led work. It is danced beautifully by Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November. Robinson is the real jewel in the piece, merely being supported and her secure en pointe work showcased by November in the most traditional of the three ballets: an archetypal pas de deux containing the only tutu of the entire evening. Robinson performs effortlessly in it, belying what must surely be a weighty appendage that adorns her body, entirely covered in crystals (kindly supported by Swarovski), performing effortlessly with no suggestion of any hindrance.

To Begin, Begin, inspired by the music of Dustin O’ Halloran takes a different approach, straddling the border of semi-narrative and abstract to provide a link between the three different styles showcased by Ballet Black in this triple bill. The music is hauntingly beautiful: fragile and delicate, yet full of emotion to allow the dancers scope to convey expression.

The piece opens with the performers using a large piece of blue silk to create a wave as it becomes part of the piece and heightens the fluidity of the movement. Performed by six of the eight artists working in a series of pairings, it allows plenty of interaction and engaging between them. Sayaka Ichikawa takes turns to dance with two male dancers, who in turn partner each other in a magnificent display of strength and power, coupled with a graceful elegance. To Begin, Begin is Christopher Marney’s sixth work for Ballet Black and the most contemporary of the pieces. Although the piece has no cohesive thread or conclusion, it is carried and strengthened O’Halloran’s powerful music.

As the only narrative work of the programme, Storyville is set in New Orleans in 1915 and follows the journey of Nola, losing control of her life and her ultimate demise. It’s not a story that demands to be told but merely provides a framework for the piece to exist within. It allows for characterisation and theme development where the other pieces do not;enhanced by a silent film genre setting. Stylized captions are paraded across the stage to introduce the characters, The Lover and Mack, announcing the passage of time, and although not entirely necessary in a ballet that is more than capable of conveying a story in its own right, it adds to the whole ambiance, reiterating the era depicted. The soundtrack is perfectly attuned, Kurt Weill’s Mack the Knife is reworked to become congruous within the piece and the dancehall scenes are defined perfectly, despite the sparse stage set. The use of ballet and incorporation of conventional steps is never compromised. Cira Robinson and Sayaka Ichikawa as Nola and Lulu respectively, swing their hips and walk en pointe as if film sirens parading in high heels and look perfectly in context. Dream scenes utilising masked figures and voodoo dolls are especially strong, evoking a sense of black magic, Nola’s repression and a sense of impending death,

Christopher Hampson has already expanded Storyville since its original incarnation in 2012 to allow the characters of Lulu, Nola, and Mack to develop. Alongside the other two pieces in the Triple Bill, it gives insight into what this company is capable of. A full-length ballet from the exceptionally talented Ballet Black is one to look out for.

Runs until 15October 2016 | Image:Bill Cooper

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