Depouillement – Ballet Black – #BBonFilm

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer: William Tuckett

Sometimes dance is about responding to the music than telling a particular story or conveying a series of emotions. Ballet Black’s Depouillement which features as this week’s #BBonFilm archive recording is just that, a 21-minute expression of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello with four distinct movements in which William Tuckett’s choreography and stage placement responds to the tricky demands of the fast-paced music.

Created in 2009 and revived in 2015, this recording isn’t the greatest quality but does enough to convey the changing formations of the dance, as different combinations of the six monochromatically dressed performers weave in and out of Tuckett’s vision. There are enough close-ups in the central pas de deux between Cira Robinson and Damian Johnson to feel the more expressive section of the piece, while the camera captures the full stage during its ensemble moments.

It opens with Allegro in which five of the dancers create patterns of movement as José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Marie-Astrid Mence, and Christopher Renfurm dance with and around Robinson, introducing large scooping and flowing patterns within the arm shaping that reflect the massing effect that Tuckett derives from the music. These rapidly changing combinations of steps in which the dancers interact as individuals, in pairs and as a coordinated group characterise Depouillement and feel intricately choreographed.

In the second section, Tres vif, Robinson is replaced by Johnson as the music becomes far more dramatic, interspersed with fast plucking sounds that give the dance a bouncier rhythm. Tuckett introduces more leaps and spins as the soundscape creeps along, contrasting notably with the more romantic serenity of section three, Lent which changes the tone entirely. Bathed in blue light, the slow precision of the now united Robinson and Johnson takes on a more emotional quality as flowing, delicate, more classical shapes dominate the choreography. Some of the decision-making is unusual with unexpected shapes created during lifts and holds that are skilfully performed.

Towards the end of this piece, the rest of the Company return to the stage, opening out the central intimacy to include mirrored sections in which the dancers work with slightly different steps in their pairs, giving the audience lots to focus on. This continues in part four – Depouillement – in which Tuckett’s challenging choreography may need several viewings to notice all of its complementary and contrasting facets. The way he places dancers around the stage is fascinating, creating changing formations and combinations that balance the gender of the dancers as well as their black and white costumes.

The dancers are not always quite in sync when they need to be, but this is very intricate, difficult choreography, and the value of the dance overcomes the lower resolution quality of the filming. A lot of modern work can tie itself in knots trying to say something profound, so it is interesting to see a piece that just says here is music, let’s dance to it.

Streaming here until 30 May 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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