East Midlands Theatre, May 15th 2019

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Review: Ballet Black. Triple Bill featuring Ingoma. Derby Theatre
5 Stars
MAY 15, 2019
BY PHILIP LOWE

Ballet Black enters its’ eighteenth year with a diverse triple bill featuring two new commissions and the revival of a classic. Led by Cassa Pancho MBE, Founder and Artistic Director, the company celebrates dancers of black and Asian descent. With a company of just seven dancers, and a huge breadth of subject matter and styles within the triple bill, they receive a well deserved standing ovation for tonight’s performance at Derby Theatre.

Firstly, Ballet Black reprise Martin Lawrance’s ‘Pendulum’, a duet first premiered in 2009. It is a hypnotic piece, with the two protagonists throwing down a proverbial dance gauntlet, testing each other, and then finding rhythms together. The choreography is complex, the interpretation precise and placed, with mirroring and repetition working alongside the sound of a heartbeat, moving ever faster to a crescendo. Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November create a wonderful, magnetic effect of repel and attract.

By way of complete contrast, the light hearted ‘Click!’ is a new commission by Scottish Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Sophie Laplane. A non-narrative piece which explores the different gestural meanings of snapping or clicking the fingers, it’s a joyous composition, full of humour and playfulness. A recording of ‘Just the Snap of your Fingers’ by The Mudlarks from 1962 gives Marie Astrid Mence and Ebony Thomas the chance to show off their perfect comedy timing and expression. This work is really brought zinging to life with striking primary coloured suits by designer Yann Seabra and a stunning lighting design by David Plater. The stage is ablaze with colour and energy, and this communicates straight to the audience.

The third and final piece of the triple bill is a new commission by company dancer and choreographer Mthuthuzeli November, entitled Ingoma (Song). November was initially inspired by the moving paintings of Gerard Sekoto, and on further researching the period, became interested in telling the story of the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1940s. With a parallel strike having taken place in 2012, it seemed this was a story of loss and struggle, a human story, which needed to be told.

Ingoma is a fusion of ballet, African dance and singing. Whilst some elements are treated literally – there are head torches and Wellington boots – much of the choreography remains abstract. 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. The emotive aspects of the story are fully realised, though the historic detail of events is less easy to discern. As the first choreography commission from one of its own company members, November has really stretched the company and created something commanding and emotionally impactive. With the incredible talent in Ballet Black, we can confidently look forward to many more internal commissions.