From adventurous choreography to the shoes on the dancers’ feet, Ballet Black is transforming the dance landscape. Zoë Anderson finds out how they do it.
We try to explore these mine workers who lose their lives, for wanting to be paid better, and what the consequences are for those left alive. There’s a sense of continuity – the mine strike in 1946, and then many years later, in 2012, the same thing happens.
Within this company, ballet is finding new roots as dancers move seamlessly from pointes to deep plie and from a classical jeté into an articulated roll in an exciting evolution of the form.
[Washa] The piece is a triumphant fusion of classical and modern dance into the millennia-old African culture, which realises November’s aim to cause the inner fire of the dancers to suffuse through their audience.
Sayaka Ichikawa delivered a sensational performance as Matilda, from the sensual embrace with her lover – an erotic effect that was doubly impressive when they were lying on a “bed” assimilated from the side-slats of wooden chairs – to the panic of their discovery and on through her degrading humiliation. It was an exceptional dramatic tour de force.
..November’s truly unforgettable solo most epitomises resistance. To insistent rhythmic chanting, and with a Zulu warrior’s endurance and physical prowess, he relentlessly lunges into high kicks with raised arms, followed by stamps and jumps from squats, beating the ground with his feet, his body an explosive star.
You can almost feel the weight of hardship and injustice in November’s choreography, while the pas de deux for him and Cira Robinson brings the miners’ suffering and frustration into tender and intimate focus. It’s a visceral piece of dance and all the dancers shine.
Ballet Black’s Triple Bill is an outstanding exploration and celebration of varying aspects of African culture and history. The passion and commitment the company have for creating work that opens ballet up to more diverse and under-represented audiences is obvious.
The applause at the end expressed not only our appreciation of the dancers’ technical mastery but also how deeply we were affected by what we had seen…Ballet Black were new to me: I will make sure I see them when next they come my way, and I urge you to do the same.
A duet between one miner and his wife feels more poignant than any fairytale pas de deux, and every bit as graceful.
The five dancers – three women, two men, all in sharp acid-bright suits – are across such shifts in mood as they hip-sway into a cool dude groove or couple up in contrasting duets where one pair has snap and crackle in their bones, the other is smooch-close and slippery-sensual with it.
Through it all, though, the humanity, the aching sense of everyday grind, of struggle, of fight and exhaustion, is expressed with great depth of emotion by the whole company. The ensemble scenes are explosive, energetic but also aching in their sense of loss.
This is ballet that is so imaginative, fresh and alive, I would encourage people who think they don’t like dance to go and see it. People who do love dance won’t need any encouragement. They will adore it all the more.
The choreography was long and involved, and I can’t even imagine the physicality it takes to perform a piece like that. With every minute that passed, it felt like another layer of an onion was peeled off, revealing very raw emotions underneath. There was absolute beauty in their unity.
For me, the lasting memory of Ballet Black is one of unique, powerful storytelling performed by remarkable dancers, with the strength and agility of world-class athletes. No wonder there was a standing ovation.
It’s a fully charged onslaught of the senses….
A duet between Sayaka Ichikawa, now in a drab blue dress and headscarf, and José Alves is painful in its intimacy. They stand close, foreheads touching, sharing their love, their breath and their fear, and dance in weaving, wrapping patterns…It was an evening when ballet has found an authentic black voice and it’s time to celebrate.
Ballet Black: Pendulum / CLICK! / INGOMA at the Barbican By Graham Watts, 20 March 2019 Opening its eighteenth season (how is that possible?), Cassa Pancho’s chamber ballet ensemble has now clocked up 45 original commissions and last year’s newbie, The Suit by Cathy Marston, garnered two gongs in the…
As founder Cassa Pancho noted in a post-show talk at the company’s recent triple bill at the Barbican, “it’s not just about redressing the lack of diverse bodies on stage but also the stories that are being told. It’s about changing the very gatekeepers of ballet.”