The Guardian, 21 March 2016

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Reviewer: Judith Mackrell

Ballet Black: Triple Bill review – Arthur Pita’s fantasy of crystal brilliance
Barbican, London

Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November enact courtship to music by Steve Reich in Pita’s ambitious new work Cristaux

Few choreographers other than Arthur Pita would attempt to combine the spare, musical rigour of Steve Reich with the expensive glitter of Swarovski crystals. Yet in Cristaux, his new work for Ballet Black, Pita uses the exquisitely glassy glockenspiel music from Reich’s Drumming to choreograph a fantasy of light-reflecting brilliance, at the centre of which is Cira Robinson – magnificently sparking in a crystal-studded tutu.

The duet seems to follow a standard classical format, as ballerina Robinson draws her partner Mthuthuzeli November into a dazzled dance of courtship. Their vocabulary of skimming bourrées and floating lifts appears equally classical in style. But Pita is doing something very distinctive here, using the “phasing” techniques of Reich’s score to accumulate layers of expressive richness. Exhilaration and tension build as the dancers’ rhythms move in and out of sync, creating a charged sense of intimacy as their wide cursive patterns scale down to a duet of gestures, a delicate interlacing of arms in space. Even though there are moments where Robinson and November can’t sustain the flawless assurance the concept demands, there’s an ambitious reach to Cristaux that exemplifies the best of Ballet Black’s bold and often surprising commissioning choices.

The rest of the programme occupies more familiar ground. The yieldingly romantic choreography of Christopher Marney’s To Begin, Begin is given dreamy punctuation by the blue drift of silk that alternately reveals and conceals the dancers. In Storyville (revived from 2012), Christopher Hampson uses Kurt Weill music to tell the story of good girl turned prostitute Nola. Hampson could, perhaps, have risked a more brutally cynical slant, but Robinson is very affecting in the scenes of Nola’s decline and Sayaka Ichikawa is creamily, almost sympathetically wicked as the brothel madam Lulu White.