Evening Standard, 11th February 2011

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Ballet Black: Mixed Bill is an achievement for Cassa Pancho
by Sarah Frater – 11 February 2011

Ten years ago Cassa Pancho set up Ballet Black as a focus for dancers of colour. The first few years were touch and go but the company grew in confidence and is now a small but significant part of the dance scene. To celebrate its 10th birthday, Pancho has put together this mixed bill that both nods to the past and looks to the future – it includes the first ballet the company danced, excerpts from its greatest hits, and a new work that hints at where it is headed.

The back catalogue confirms the smartness of Pancho’s early approach. The four ballets are short, plotless, and show off the dancers. The highlight was easily Da Gamba by Henri Oguike from 2010. The Welsh-Nigerian choreographer made his name in the bare-footed realm of contemporary dance and it’s hard to believe this is his first for ballet dancers on pointe. It’s set to Bach’s Solo Cello Suite in D minor and includes detailed footwork and complex rhythms, plus some lovely costumes which show off the fine lines of duo Chantelle Gotobed and Jade Hale-Christofi.

After the interval came Will Tuckett’s new work for the company. It is based on the Orpheus myth and is set to Stravinsky’s challenging score written in 1947 for the choreographer George Balanchine. There’s no reason why a younger, smaller troupe shouldn’t take on this dance-drama but it is clearly a more significant undertaking than everything Ballet Black has attempted so far.

The result is uneven. Unequivocally successful is Damien Johnson as Orpheus. He is in almost every scene, and both his acting and dancing is convincing. Tuckett has invested considerable choreographic energy in Orpheus and his wife Eurydice (Sarah Kundi), and their duets are strongly danced. The “blindfold” sequence is especially good, clearly conveying their love and longing. The choreography for the corps begins with some engaging mime but their dancing is less consistently assured, while some of their costumes are distracting. However, the dancers acquitted themselves well, and leave you in no doubt about Pancho’s achievement.