Cristaux – Ballet Black – #BBonFilm

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer: Arthur Pita

If Shirley Bassey thought diamonds were forever and Marilyn Monroe claimed their friendship, Ballet Black’s 2016 pas de deux Cristaux, uploaded this week from the #BBonFilm archive, takes a slightly sharper perspective on this enduring substance. In just under 16-minutes, Arthur Pita’s choreography considers its light-reflecting and impermeable properties as two figurines explore a slightly formal but increasingly intimate connection.

Steve Reich’s composition Drumming Part III created in 1971 is an almost overwhelming experience as the tinkly sounds of a Music Box gone haywire clatters a high speed for much of this piece. However it may have sounded in the auditorium, listening at home using earphones is a slightly painful experience at times, the intensity of the splitting pitch like the audio torture of 1984 – after 10-minutes of that you’ll tell them anything they want to know.

But the music is integral to the slightly warped effect Pita is creating between his dancers whose emotional stiffness and slow classical shaping belies the frantic effect of the music. Something is certainly amiss here, there is an undertone of unease as dancers Mthuthuzeli November and Cira Robinson loop round the stage, not interacting at first, only responding to and mirroring each other’s movements in concentric circles.

When they do start to interact, their faces give little away; they are two characters brought to life for this interaction but the cold precision of their gestures suggests no emotional connection. Pita’s chorography for his ballerina, animated by the bewitched Music Box, is strongly influenced by the Sugar Plum Fairy. Robinson enters en pointe and remains there for much of the dance, moving her feet rapidly and with clean determination as she sustains her reserved poise even as she is lifted into the air.

November, by contrast, is given more fluid arm movements, a windmill effect he sustains even while laying on the stage in sleeping prince mode or in the few solo segments where dancers are separated by individual spotlights. That arm placement becomes deeply intricate as the couple come together and November stands behind Robinson to create a series of shapes as her Swarovski tutu glitters in close-up.

As the piece unfolds the geometric form starts to weaken and Pita’s intention is less clear. Are these wooden statuettes come to life or something else entirely? The almost staccato effect of the early minutes in which the performances suggested the unyielding nature of the material loosens as a large crystal swings into view on the stage and its prism-like ability to reflect and distort light becomes the focus. Pita’s piece reflects crystal in every way, pretty to look at, intriguing and multifaceted but also cold and unreadable too.

Streaming here until 23 May 2020

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