Uplifting night from gifted Ballet Black
by Sarah Frater – 01 February 2007
Starting a ballet company from scratch is so difficult and so expensive, that almost everyone has stopped trying.
So-called pick-up companies, where dancers come together for a tour or mini-season, are more common, and contemporary dance troupes spring up all the time, and can, just about, with talent and enthusiasm and truly Herculean effort, make their mark on a shoe-string.
But ballet companies, even small ones, cost an arm and a leg, and that makes them rare. Those without regular subsidy are rarer still, and those without subsidy and only black and Asian dancers are unheard of – until, that is, Ballet Black.
Formed in 2001 by Cassa Pancho, the troupe is a textbook start-up. First, it is a small company with short programmes of short ballets. The costumes are simple and the sets plain, all meaning that production costs stay low.
Second, it commissions ballets from up-and-coming choreographers or former dancers wanting to branch out (again, low-ish costs), who show off the dancers and veil their weaknesses.
Third, it does not dance the classics, which are difficult, or Swan Lake excerpts, which are for whizz-bang galas.
Fourth, it has a ring-ding patron, Carlos Acosta no less, to inspire the dancers and impress the audience.
Fifth, it has a base in the Opera House, which is great for networking.
Last, it has supporters who turn out and cheer even when steely-eyed dance critics spy less than perfection.
For all this, credit to Pancho, and credit to her six young dancers who have poise and enthusiasm and allure. At the Linbury they showed a tenacity you do not always see in heritage troupes, and although very much fledglings, they had the commitment of old pros.
Strongest of the four-part programme were the first and last ballets.
Opening the evening was Taniec, a pas de trois by the troupe’s ballet master Raymond Chai, that was plain and simple, yet let the dancers shine.
Choreographically more detailed was Liam Scarlett’s Hinterland, a piece for the entire company set to Shostakovich. Scarlett is a dancer with The Royal Ballet, and his haute professionalism showed in Hinterland’s clear motifs and appealing costumes.
These two bookended Antonia Franceschi’s Shift, Trip, Catch, and Bawren Tavaziva’s Umdlalo kaSisi, which was the only piece to include African inflexions. All four ballets were popular with the audience, who know good karma, and a good effort, when they see it.