Ballet Black at the Barbican — dance tailor-made to reach new audiences
The racially diverse troupe presented a well-judged touring show, despite lack of funding
by Louise Levene MARCH 6, 2017
Black faces were a rarity on the British ballet stage back in 2001 when Cassa Pancho founded Ballet Black. Sixteen years later, the personnel of the major companies is far more reflective of the UK’s racial mix but the make-up of their fanbases has been slower to evolve.
Pancho’s company takes classical dance to a new, diverse audience in places not visited by the larger troupes (Worthing, anyone?) and routinely commissions new work. With only eight dancers, most of the heritage repertoire is off-limits but the back catalogue includes tailor-made pieces from Will Tuckett, Arthur Pita, Christopher Hampson, Henri Oguike, Javier de Frutos and the Royal Ballet’s Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett.
This spring’s touring programme, which reached London’s Barbican Theatre last weekend, offered a well-balanced triple bill of work beginning with House of Dreams, a seamless double duet by Michael Corder. The (taped) Debussy made for an attractive soundscape but also added to the vague sense of déjà vu evoked by Corder’s rather by-the-yard exchanges in which attractive, sure-footed artists became mere lay figures in the mechanism.
There was a welcome revival of Captured, Martin Lawrance’s 2012 quartet, which tangles boldly with the anxious violins of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.11 and features Cira Robinson (ex-Dance Theatre of Harlem).
Robinson’s long, lean lines are also the focus of the evening’s finale: an update of Little Red Riding Hood by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa danced to a larky playlist of French popular music. Lopez Ochoa recasts the Grimm tale as a modern rite of passage, the curious heroine sampling (and liking) the perils of life in the big city. The wolf (a comic tour de force from junior artist Mthuthuzeli November) lassos his prey with his long, suggestive tail to Larry Adler’s immortal harmonica solo from the 1954 film Touchez Pas au Grisbi.
The absence of public funding (2016’s one-off grant from the Arts Council’s diversity fund covers barely 25 per cent of running costs) leaves little for design fripperies but David Plater’s lighting sets the mood and Yann Seabra works witty wonders with a handful of props and a little glade of helium balloons.