BALLET BLACK – THE KING’S THEATRE
June 9, 2019
Founder and Artistic Director – Cassa Pancho
Choreography by Martin Lawrence, Sophie Laplane and Mthuthuzeli November
Design Work by Yann Seabra and Peter Todd
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Marking their 18th season in March, Ballet Black bring their world premiere to the UK. Now in Scotland, Edinburgh is honoured to play host to contemporary ballet performers with mold-breaking movement married with tradition. A trio of pieces, each as staggeringly impressive as the last, serve to showcase the immeasurable talents of this troupe. From the combative piece Pendulum to the glorious colours in Click, closing with the downright hauntingly gorgeous Ingoma.
Dance conjures emotion. Emotion fuels dance. The two are inseparable in productions of movement. Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrence, finds dancers Sayaka Ichikawa & Mthuthuzeki November gradually succumbing to a closeness which cuts through aggressive competition. There’s no accompanying score to start with. It’s jarring, but its intent is clear – focus on the movement and the athleticism of each muscular movement. These dancers create their own rhythm within one another, synchronising without a rhythm, only eachother and their control to rely on.
Moving from a vast-scape of pale light, Click could not be more different, certainly standing as the most energetically colourful of the trio. It is a piece which openly blends multiple dance forms, highly creative in its designs by Yann Seabra, and explores the multitude of ways we can interpret such a simple action. To click, can mean to hurry, to silence or of course, in time to the beat. Our five performers are led by Isabela Coracy, clad in a shade of yellow only she could pull off. Contrasting Pendulum, the troupe is dressed in vivid tones. They explode in vibrancy as the spotlights strike off these colours. Beginning with a group piece set to the medley of scores, we break off into separate performances. Coracy’s is exhilarating, disgustingly cooler than anything most of the room will ever accomplish. Jose Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet captures the intensity of movement. Set to a more serious tone by To Rococo Rot’s composition, the colours shift from light-hearted and fun to dark passion. In a blitz, we return to the spectrum, the clicks growing faster and flurries of feet flash amidst the fusing rainbow of lights – making for a terrific end to the first half.
It is Ingoma, however, which sets Ballet Black apart from the rest. We move from the straight medium of dance to one of pure storytelling. Choreographed by November, danseur of the first piece, it depicts the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1946. The scene is laid before us, the gravel and coals spilled onto the stage as the company don hard hats and pickaxes. There is no rush with Ingoma, time is taken to build atmosphere, leading to a dramatic, drawn out payoff of sublime emotional release.
The sun beating on their backs, the Isicathulo techniques of heavy stomps, synchronise perfectly with the foreboding score. Ingoma tells the story, not only of a young miner who perishes but of those left behind, arguably the real point of the narrative. In terms of dance technique, this is human. The tie between pathos and movement is gorgeous. We see every muscle, flex and sharp pinpoint movement, as Ebony Thomas is illuminated by the gleam of the hardhats, before the dusty air envelopes him.
On occasion, dancers engage en pointe, a firm reminder of the tribute to the artforms core movements. Ichikawa’s performance transcends this beauty, adding the desperation of loss. The more she dances, the more physically exhausting the performance feels. Ballet usually makes us see the performers as neigh superhuman, holding poses and leaping in ways we cannot. Ichikawa strips this back, collapsing in the moment, she is lifted. For just like the workers, exhaustion is no excuse to stop. So she dances. Dances for the pain and for those still suffering on the sidelines.
Ballet, traditionally, has a glossy aesthetic. Primped and polished until it glows with pride. This contributes quite heavily to its image as a bourgeois artform, pushing its perceived accessibility away. Ballet Black, however, is raw movement of the utmost standard. Its polish comes from capable dancers; its aesthetic shifts from natural dusk to a blaze of tone in what is a remarkable evening, redefining the rules of ballet.