Cassa Pancho MBE, Founder - Artistic Director
Of Trinidadian and British parents, Cassa trained at the Royal Academy of Dance, gaining a degree in classical ballet from Durham University. Upon graduating in 2001, she founded Ballet Black in order to provide role models to young, aspiring black and Asian dancers. A year later, she opened the Ballet Black Junior School in Shepherd’s Bush and in 2004, began the BB Associate Programme, which currently has over four hundred members. Cassa is also a graduate of the 2009 National Theatre cultural leadership programme, Step Change. Since starting the Company, she has commissioned work from a wide array of choreographers, including Liam Scarlett, Richard Alston, Javier de Frutos, Christopher Marney, Martin Lawrance, Shobana Jeyasingh, Henri Oguike, Christopher Hampson, Arthur Pita and Will Tuckett. Ballet Black won both the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Company in 2009 and Best Independent Company in 2012. Cassa was awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Year Honours List for Services to Classical Ballet and has served as a judge on the panels of both the Kenneth MacMillan Choreographic and BBC Young Dancer competitions. In 2015, Cassa became a Patron of Central School of Ballet and in May 2016 became a vice president of The London Ballet Circle.
José Alves - Senior Artist
Born in Brazil, José started ballet at the age of 13 at the Adalgisa Rolim Ballet School. In 2007 he joined the Bolshoi Theatre School in Brazil and graduated in 2008. In 2010 he attended the Youth American Grand Prix in New York, where he was awarded a scholarship to train with the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company. When he was unable to raise the funds to travel to New Zealand, he joined the Ballet Company of the Young (Palace of Arts) in Belo, Brazil where he remained until 2011. During this time he was also the featured dancer in Ricky Martin’s music video, Samba. In 2012 he joined the Teatr Muzyczny w Łódz in Poland. José joined Ballet Black for the 2012/13 season and was promoted to Senior Artist in 2014. He has danced in original choreography by Javier de Frutos, Will Tuckett, Ludovic Ondiviela and created the roles of Demetrius and Bottom in A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Pita and The Son in Mark Bruce’s Second Coming. José then joined Polski Teatr Tańca (Polish Dance Theatre) for a year before returning to Ballet Black in September 2016.
Isabela Coracy - Senior Artist
Isabela was born in Brazil and began her vocational training at the Centre for Dance in Rio. She has taken part in many festivals and competitions, including the Joinville Festival and Youth America Grand Prix. As a professional, Isabela has danced with Deborah Colker Dance, Sao Paulo Dance Company, CIA Youth Ballet of Rio de Janeiro and has toured Russia extensively. She has danced in many classics: Don Quixote, Raymonda, Swan Lake and Serenade, as well as modern works, Gnawa (Nacho Duato) and The Double (Mauricio de Oliveira). In 2009, Isabela was featured in the documentary, Only When I Dance, directed by Beaide Finzi. Isabela joined Ballet Black as a Junior Artist in 2013 and has since danced in works by Christopher Marney, Javier de Frutos and Martin Lawrance. In 2014, Isabela created the role of Puck in A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Pita. In 2015, she was promoted to Senior Artist and created the role of The Maiden in Mark Bruce’s production of Second Coming.
Sayaka Ichikawa - Senior Artist
Sayaka was born in Chiba, Japan, where she began dancing at the age of two. She trained in New York and in 2003 moved to London to study at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. Sayaka graduated in 2006 with a First Class BA (Hons) degree. Since graduating, she has performed with Vienna Festival Ballet and Ballet Theatre UK as a Principal Dancer in Coppélia, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and in 2009 performed Le Corsaire with American Ballet Theatre at the London Coliseum. Sayaka performed in Ross McKim’s Moving Visions Dance Theatre at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and York Minster. She has also danced for English National Opera and Opera North in their production of Madam Butterfly. Sayaka appeared in the musical The King and I and in the film, StreetDance: the Movie. She has also been a Guest Principal Dancer and Guest Teacher for Ballet Riviera in Switzerland since 2008. Sayaka was a member of the Ballet Black Associate Programme for several years before becoming a Senior Artist with Ballet Black in 2011. Since joining the Company, Sayaka has been a featured dancer in ballets by Jonathan Watkins, Henri Oguike, Martin Lawrance and Christopher Marney. In 2014 she created the role of Helena in Arthur Pita’s production of A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream. After a year off to have her first child, Sayaka returned to Ballet Black for the 2015/16 season.
Damien Johnson - Senior Artist
Damien was born in Dallas, Texas and received his training from Etgen-Atkinson School of Ballet and the Booker T. Washington School of the Arts. He then studied on a full scholarship at the School of American Ballet. In 2002, Damien joined the American Repertory Ballet and then the Dance Theater of Harlem Ensemble in 2003. He first joined Ballet Black in 2005 before moving to Los Angeles Ballet in 2008. Damien returned to Ballet Black in 2009. As the longest serving member of Ballet Black, Damien has been featured in many Company works by choreographers that include Irek Mukhamedov, Liam Scarlett, Richard Alston and Javier de Frutos, and created the title role of Orpheus in Will Tuckett’s 2011 production for Ballet Black. He created the roles of The Lover in Christopher Hampson’s Storyville (2012), The Soldier in Christopher Marney’s War Letters in 2013, Oberon in Arthur Pita’s Ballet Black production of A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014) and The Ruler in Second Coming (Mark Bruce in 2015). Damien is also a sought-after teacher and is Ballet Master for the Ballet Black Company and Associate Programme.
Marie Astrid Mence - Junior Artist
Marie-Astrid was born in Paris, France where she began dancing in a private dance school before continuing to the Higher National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris. She was a member of the Junior Ballet of Paris and danced in works by Jiri Kilian, William Forsythe, Larry Keigwin, Christopher Hampson and Annabelle Lopez- Ochoa. She continued her training as a scholarship student at Alvin Ailey School in 2012 and was invited to dance in Revelations for Judith Jamison's (Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) birthday. Marie-Astrid joined Ballet Black in September 2014. In the summer of 2015, Marie joined Phoenix Dance Company and had the opportunity to dance in Tearfall and Melt by Artistic Director, Sharon Watson as well as Mapping (Darshan Singh Buller), Undivided Love (Kate Flatt) and Until Without Enough (Itzik Galili). Marie returned to Ballet Black in September 2016.
Mthuthuzeli November - Junior Artist
Mthuthu was born in Cape Town, South Africa and started dancing at the age of 15 with the outreach programme, Dance For All. In 2011 he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA). After receiving the Best Student of the Year for 2013 and 2014, he graduated with a Distinction in 2014. Mthuthu won a gold medal in the Contemporary category in the South Africa International Ballet Competition in 2012 as a Junior, and again in 2014 as a Senior. He has worked with Cape Dance Company under the direction of Debbie Turner, and with choreographers including Bradley Shelver, Christopher Huggins, Joshua Beamish and Belinda Nusser. More recently he danced in the musical West Side Story. In 2015 he travelled to the UK to perform with Central School of Ballet’s third year touring company, Ballet Central, performing all over the country. Mthuthu is also a keen choreographer and recently won an award for his piece, Calligraphy. He joined BB as First Year Apprentice in September 2015.
Cira Robinson - Senior Artist
Cira was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she began dancing at the age of eight. After graduating from the Performing Arts School in 2004, she moved to New York to dance full-time with the Dance Theater of Harlem. During her three years there, she performed at the White House for the President of the United States, as well as the Protégé Festival. In 2008, Cira travelled to the United Kingdom for the first time to join Ballet Black. In the summer that year, she danced with Ballet Identity in Los Angeles, before returning to Ballet Black in November. Since 2008, she has danced in Ballet Black commissions by Martin Lawrance, Richard Alston, Henri Oguike, Liam Scarlett and Robert Binet to name a few. She created the role of one of the Furies in Will Tuckett’s Orpheus (2011) and the lead role of Nola in Ballet Black’s production of Storyville, choreographed for BB by Christopher Hampson in 2012. In 2013 she was featured in War Letters (Christopher Marney) and received her first nomination for Outstanding Classical dancer at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards in 2014. She also created the role of Titania in Arthur Pita’s Ballet Black production of A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Biff in the BB family production of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet and The Serpent in Second Coming (choreographed by Mark Bruce). Cira also teaches regularly at the Ballet Black Junior School.
Jacob Wye - Senior Artist
Jacob began dancing with The Royal Ballet’s Chance to Dance project at the age of eight. He continued his training at The Royal Ballet School’s Junior Associates and was then accepted into The Royal Ballet Lower School where he stayed for five years before joining the Central School of Ballet in 2009. In his final year at Central, he toured around England and travelled to Amsterdam to perform works from various choreographers including Christopher Gable, Sharon Watson and Michaela Polly. In 2012, he received the Classical Ballet Award from Central and danced at multiple venues for the London 2012 Olympics including a solo at the Wembley Arena, choreographed by Sara Matthews and Leanne King. Jacob joined Ballet Black as an Apprentice in September 2012 and was promoted to Junior Artist in 2013. He has danced in choreography created by Robert Binet, Javier de Frutos, Kit Holder and Martin Lawrance and created the role of Lysander in Ballet Black’s production of A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Arthur Pita. In 2015 he created the role of The Maiden’s Husband in Mark Bruce’s Second Coming. Jacob was promoted to Senior Artist at the start of the 2015/16 season.