Say It Loud/Black Sun Review
Alanah Hammond reviews the versatile, creative and compact double bill performance from Ballet Black
7th Nov 2022
In its celebration of twenty years of Ballet Black, Founder and Artistic Director, Cassa Pancho, provided the audience at York Theatre Royal with two new works – Black Sun and Say It Loud – for one night only.
Say It Loud was performed first; it charted the struggles and inspiration behind the formation of this exciting and pioneering company, showcasing their frenetic and creative energy which has built their reputation as a necessary part of the British ballet industry.
However, to get to this stage, Ballet Black doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable reasons behind the Company’s existence. The piece opened with verbatim comments such as “It’s reverse racism” and “Why are they so bothered about black ballet shoes” which alerted the audience to the criticism Ballet Black had received.
Pancho further explained this recurring verbatim element of the ballet: “The voiceover throughout the ballet is a collection of different social media comments, reviews, audience feedback and discussions with the Company artists and students.”
The first piece was split into seven chapters. The first chapter opened with the dancers dressed in purple as they eased us in, capturing our attention with their elegance and sheer muscular power. Our attention was shifted by the sound of sirens followed by rap music. Pancho explained that the second chapter was about where it began: London, a place which “makes you feel like you belong.”
The third chapter saw one of the dancers attempt to navigate his way through the constant message that suffering is his ‘lot’ in life. It began with a jazzy buzz with plenty of feathers, but the musical backdrop of Lord Kitchener’s ‘If You’re Brown’ told a different story as the same feathers began to drown the dancer.
Chapter four, in contrast, was about hope and chapter five was a homage to *Ballet Black’*s choreographers. We saw a beautiful piece set to ‘What a Wonderful World’ where three dancers intertwined with each other seamlessly.
Etta James’ iconic song ‘At Last’ was used in chapter six to depict the passion and love of ballet that forms Ballet Black, whereas the final chapter was a moment for us to celebrate twenty years of the Company.
They used elements of celebratory dances like the Electric Slide, the Cupid Shuffle and their favourite ballet steps to say it loud: they’re Ballet Black and proud. Songs such as ‘This Little Light of Mine’ saw all the dancers on stage bursting with energy in spite of performing six other dances.
In just over 40 minutes, Ballet Black provided a versatile, creative and compact performance, showcasing a dance for every taste and age. But the performance was not over– the second half saw Ballet Black perform Black Sun by acclaimed South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma (Vuyani Dance Theatre) and featured an original score by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (Boy Blue).
Creatively, the second ballet in this double bill was a work that drew energy from the sun and the moon giving rise to descendants of ancestors. It saw a costume change, designed by Jessica Cabassa, with outfits of gold and black on a stage warmed by David Plater’s lighting choices.
Ballet shoes were taken off, dreadlocks were down, and afros were out, as the dancers were in solidarity in this refreshing piece. The second performance certainly did not disappoint and only further emphasised the range of the superb dancers in Ballet Black.