Lost In Theatre Land, 10th March 2023

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‘Both pieces are utterly mesmerising making Ballet Black: Pioneers unmissable to ballet lovers and beyond.’

Ballet Black: Pioneers


By Jenny Skuse
Fri 10 Mar 2023

Ballet Black: Pioneers is split into two pieces, Then and Now (2020) and Nina: By Whatever Means.

The first piece, Then and Now (2020) is storytelling through words, music and dance.

The combination of poetry by Adrienne Rich read by Hafsah Bashir, Natasha Gordon, and Michael Shaeffer, and the violin solo of Daniel Pioro with movement choreographed and directed by William Tuckett is incredibly powerful and surprisingly moving. There are moments of tenderness, light, and joy and also moments of pain and turmoil. Honesty and rawness are present throughout the whole piece, with moments of stillness which leave you hanging onto a breath. At one point the dancers all sit, looking out at the audience in a moment of intimacy and almost judgement – which is surprisingly confronting.

Tuckett speaks of the notion of poetry as a ‘Spoken Score’ and you can see this in his use of rhythm, at times letting the words dictate the movement, rather than the violin score, performed by Daniel Pioro. This piece is a variation on a theme – Passacaglia by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber written in 1676, cuts right to the bone, soaring and at times coarse and confronting, suiting the poetry beautifully.

The staging was simple with some lovely moments, a bare stage with white chairs and spotlights, at one point the lights created a mirrored, water effect on the floor, giving the effect of the dancers moving through rippling water.

The poem ‘Sending Love’ stayed with me as the ensemble worked together to create a deeply moving, yet uplifting, and sometimes humorous ballet. I enjoyed its playfulness.

NINA: By Whatever Means

From Nina Simone’s childhood around a piano, sweetly portrayed by young dancer Sienne Adotey, to her time spent in jazz clubs, and her domestic life – with a particular focus on her tumultuous relationship with her second husband which creates an emotional duet with Alexander Fadayiro, to the rousing ‘Sinnerman’ which encompasses her role as one of the voices of the Civil Rights Movement.

The vocals are Simone’s but Isabela Coracy absolutely does her justice in movement, mannerism, and heart. The piano moves through the decades as Simone ages, a grounding motif, a constant reminder of her music and the impact it had throughout her life and beyond. Jessica Cabassa’s costumes encapsulate Simone’s style and the fashion of the eras being shown.

Both pieces are utterly mesmerising making Ballet Black: Pioneers unmissable to ballet lovers and beyond.