Ballet Black was founded by Cassa Pancho. The purpose of the Company was to provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet. Together with founding Ballet Master Denzil Bailey, Ballet Black’s first audition was held at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. After several months of searching, six dancers joined Cassa and Denzil to became the first members of Ballet Black: Frederic Claudel, Celia Grannum, Florence Kollie, Sia Kpakiwa, Gerrard Martin and Jake Nwogu. Ballet Black held its first performance at the Royal Academy of Dance, featuring choreography by Pancho and Bailey, as well as musical performances by Celloman and students from Trinity College of Music.
Ballet Black made its debut at the Cochrane Theatre, London, dancing in ballets by Stephen Sheriff and Patrick Lewis. German dancer, Silvestre Sanchez replaced Gerrard Martin. At the same time, Pancho opened the Ballet Black School for young children in Shepherd’s Bush, and the Ballet Black Associate Programme for teenage and professional dancers.
Raymond Chai took over as Chief Ballet Master, and the Company returned to the Cochrane theatre once more, with new dancers Neil Totton and Jeremiah Tatum. After a meeting with Deborah Bull, Creative Director for ROH2 at the Royal Opera House, Ballet Black moved its weekend classes and rehearsals to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The Company held a fundraising performance at the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House, with new addition to the Company, Camille Fitzworme, and also performed at the Global Fusion Festival, Hastings. The Company achieved Registered Charity Status.
Carlos Acosta, Principal Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet Company became the Patron of Ballet Black. The Company, (Damien Johnson, Carl Paris Adams, Denzil Bailey, Celia Grannum and So-Yeon Kim) had its first season at the Linbury Studio Theatre, with choreography by Antonia Franceschi, Stephen Sheriff and Irek Mukhamedov. After a cancelled tour to Poland left the Company in dire financial straits, Ballet Black returned to the Linbury, and sold out a one-off fundraising performance with just one week’s notice. The Associate Programme reached over 100 members.
Ballet Black (now with dancers Hugo Cortes, Richard Glover, Chantelle Gotobed, Damien Johnson, So-Yeon Kim and Monica Stephenson) returned to the Linbury Studio for a brand new, sell-out season, this time featuring choreography by Liam Scarlett, Antonia Franceschi, Bawren Tavaziva, and Company Ballet Master, Raymond Chai. Ballet Black was also featured in a poll of ‘The Best of Black Britain’ in PRIDE Magazine.
Ballet Black returned to the Linbury Theatre in April with a brand new company of dancers: Darrius Gray, Cira Robinson, Jaime Rodney, Nandita Shankardass, Stephanie Williams and Jazmon Voss. The season was made up of world premieres by Shobana Jeyasingh, Liam Scarlett and Richard Alston. The company was also featured in the March edition of British Vogue and made its debut at the Cambridge Arts Theatre and The Big Mission, Swindon. At the start of the new season in November, BB welcomed new British dancers Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi into the company, along with returning dancers Chantelle Gotobed and Hugo Cortes (from 2007) and Cira and Jazz from the April season. 2008 also saw the addition of four new classes to the Ballet Black Junior School and the Associate Programme.
For their 2008/9 season, Ballet Black were able to offer year-round contracts for the first time. The Company was made up of BB veterans: American dancers Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss, Hugo Cortes from Brazil, and British dancers Chantelle Gotobed, Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi. BB commissioned brand new ballets from Martin Lawrance, Antonia Franceschi, Christopher Marney and Will Tuckett, and revived their 2007 ballet by Liam Scarlett, Hinterland. In addition to their sell-out season at the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House and the Cambridge Arts Theatre, the Company also made their debut at the Hackney Empire in London, the Latitude Festival in Suffolk and danced at the G20 summit for guests including Sarah Brown, Michelle Obama and J. K Rowling. The Company received its first nomination at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, for Best Classical Dancer for Sarah Kundi, and won the Dance Europe Award for Outstanding Dance Company of 2009.
For the 2009/10 season, American dancer Damien Johnson re-joined the Company and Ballet Black returned to the Royal Opera House with another programme of world premieres, choreographed by Chief Ballet Master, Raymond Chai, hip-hop dance maker Robert Hylton, and award-winning choreographers Christopher Hampson and Henri Oguike. The Ballet Black Junior School added several new classes to its schedule and the Associate programme grew to 250 members. The Company debuted at East London Dance’s Local, International season, Greenwich Dance Agency’s Cabaret, appeared twice at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre and staged a special performance at the Royal Opera House, hosted by Kwame Kwei-Armah with talks from Richard Alston and Christopher Marney.
The start of their 2010/11 season saw the Company hire its first Apprentice dancers, Kanika Carr (Central School of Ballet) and Samuel Chung (Tring Park), taking the Company to eight dancers. The season also marked BB’s ten-year anniversary which was commemorated with their first ever narrative ballet, Orpheus, choreographed by Will Tuckett that premiered at the Royal Opera House in February. The Company also toured to new locations, including Canterbury, Winchester, Bury-St-Edmunds, Watford, Southend and Nottingham. British actor and playwright, Kwame Kwei Armah joined Ballet Black as Patron.
For BB’s 2011/12 season, the Company welcomed two new dancers: First Year Apprentice, Joseph Poulton, graduate of the Central School of Ballet, and Senior Artist, Sayaka Ichikawa. In addition to new tour locations in Lancaster and Newbury, the Company also returned to Canterbury, Winchester and new London venue, the artsdepot in Finchley. The Royal Opera House season grew to include seven performance and in April BB embarked upon its first foreign tour to Modena, Italy, as well as a UK tour of the Theatre Royal, Bury-St-Edmunds, Exeter Northcott Theatre, Brewhouse Arts Centre, The Curve, Leicester, Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham and the Cambridge Arts Theatre. The repertoire included new works from Jonathan Watkins (The Royal Ballet), Martin Lawrance (creator of Pendulum for BB in 2009) and Jonathan Goddard (Rambert Dance Company). Christopher Hampson also returned with a new narrative work, Storyville, a dark tale of love, corruption and survival, set in the nightclubs of 1900s New Orleans.
BB welcomed Central School of Ballet graduate, Jacob Wye as a First Year Apprentice, and Brazilian dancer, José Alves as a Junior Artist and Autumn touring took the Company to Harlow, Poole, London, Lincoln and Newbury. The annual Linbury Theatre programme at the Royal Opera House featured new creations by choreographers Robert Binet, Ludovic Ondiviela and Javier de Frutos and a new narrative ballet, War Letters by Christopher Marney. The new programme toured to Cambridge Arts Theatre, Exeter Northcott, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Southhill Park, Salisbury Playhouse, G-Live, The Brunton, Harlow Playhouse, The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds and Theatr Brychieniog. The Company also won Best Independent Company of 2012 at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, and Founder and Artistic Director Cassa Pancho received an MBE in the New Year Honours for Services to Ballet.
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, José, Kanika and Sayaka) was joined by two new dancers: Isabela Coracy from Brazil, and Christopher Renfurm from Holland. Touring was extended to include Gorizia, Italy, and the Festival for Performing Arts in Bermuda. The Company created three brand new ballets that opened at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre, Two Of A Kind by Christopher Marney, Limbo by Martin Lawrance and A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Pita, followed by a tour of the UK. Senior Artist Cira Robinson received a nomination for Outstanding Classical Dancer at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, and Arthur Pita's Dream received nominations for Best New Classical Choreography as well as a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at the Olivier Awards. The Company created its first ever ballet aimed specifically at children and families, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, choreographed by Christopher Marney and based on the best-selling book by Anna Kemp. At the end of the year, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho became a Patron of Central School of Ballet.
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, Kanika, José, Isabela and Christopher) were joined by new Junior Artist, Marie-Astrid Mence from France. Two new ballets were created: To Fetch A Pail of Water? by Kit Holder (Birmingham Royal Ballet) and their latest narrative ballet, Second Coming, by award-winning dance maker, Mark Bruce, plus the revival of the critically acclaimed Depouillement originally created by Will Tuckett in 2009. International touring increased to include to Sardinia and Naples and the first ever visit to Germany at the Burghof in Lörrach. BB commissioned a new duet Rhapsody in Blue by Christopher Marney for their debut at the Henley Festival performing to over 3,000 people. In November 2015, Cira and Damien performed as part of the launch of the Black Power List 2016 event at the prestigious V&A Museum. Ballet Black's A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream (choreographed by Arthur Pita) was nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award. The Company's family ballet, Dogs Don't Do Ballet (Christopher Marney) continued to tour the UK. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, BB welcomed back Sayaka Ichikawa after a year off to have a baby, and new dancers, Mthuthuzeli November from South Africa and Joshua Harriette from the UK.
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, Kanika, Isabela, Mthuthuzeli, Sayaka and Joshua) revived A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream for their first ever performances in the Netherlands at Holland Dance Festival, alongside To Fetch A Pail Of Water and Depouillement . Two new ballets were created: Cristaux (Arthur Pita) and To Begin, Begin (Christopher Marney) and audience favourite, Storyville was re-staged for the Company's debut at the Barbican Theatre, London in March 2016. Touring of the new triple bill and Dogs Don't Do Ballet (2012, Christopher Marney) continued through the Spring, including performances at Polka Theatre Wimbledon, DanceEast Ipswich, Connaught Theatre Worthing, Oxford Playhouse, Newbury Corn Exchange and The Lowry Salford. In July 2016 a South Bank Show about Ballet Black, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, aired on Sky Arts. At the end of the 2015/16 season, Kanika Carr and Joshua Harriette left the Company and BB welcomed the return of dancers José Alves from Brazil and Marie Astrid Mence from France. Touring of the triple bill featuring Storyville continues to November 2016, including debut performances at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Northern Stage Newcastle, Tramway Glasgow, Cast at Doncaster and Garrick Theatre Lichfield, plus return visits to Millfield Arts Centre Enfield, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre Leeds, Exeter Northcott, Watford Palace Theatre and Harlow Playhouse.