Broadway World, 9th Nov 2021

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Review: BALLET BLACK, Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House
Linbury, Royal Opera House
By Vikki Jane Vile
November 09, 2021

Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, Black Black return to the Linbury Theatre with a double bill of new work, and, in signature style, you’ll be hard pressed to leave without your heart feeling a little fuller than before.

Cassa Pancho’s company has always been small, at present featuring eight dancers (not including one currently on maternity leave) and over the years this has allowed audiences to become familiar with their individual faces, styles and techniques. Needless to say, there is a warm familiarity in going to see a Ballet Black show and this latest programme is no different.

Then or Now is choreographer Will Tuckett’s third piece for the company. Set against the spoken word of Adrienne Rich’s Dark Fields of the Republic it demands a rejection of passivity and apathy and a call to action, before declaring love as being above everything else. “What kinds of times are these?” the voice asks while Cira Robinson takes centre stage, bourréeing delicately in David Plater’s soft lighting. In the intimate setting of the Linbury and close up in the stalls, the audience can enjoy every detail of her fine movements, the muscles of her back and her general stage presence. As ever, she is a striking performer.

The dancers sit on white chairs, framing the small stage, as the choreography jumps from solos to pas de deux and full set-pieces that respond to the poetry – sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively. The action prior to the chairs being removed and the dancers having full reign of the stage is too long, however, and choreographically the latter section is less interesting. But Junior Artist Ebony Thomas frequently steals attention throughout with strong partnering and natural charisma.

Completing the programme is Senior Artist Mthuthuzeli November’s The Waiting Game, which manages to be thought-provoking without taking itself too seriously. An eerie start sees November, dressed ready for work, watched ponderously from above the frame of a closed door by Sayaka Ichikawa. A grandfather clock chimes and she tilts her head, considering him with an air of pity.

The story is then broken down into three movements, the first spoken-word narrated by November himself as he describes an unremarkable daily routine featuring lots of coffee and teeth-brushing. He is finally coaxed through the door, not in small part thanks to some energetic efforts from Ichikawa who playfully taunts him until he relents. He re-emerges in a bedazzled, glittering jacket and the full company boogie joyfully to Etta James’s “Something’s Got a Hold of Me”.

November is gifted in providing a neat ending too. Never does he allow you to wonder if things might be wrapping up; he makes his point before that. Just as “love” has left the room, the door closes, leaving silence. November stands, briefly looking out to the audience. “So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.” comes the voiceover, before lights out. It’s cheeky and clever and satisfying and you’ll be hard pressed not to smile.