By Caroline Bleakley
12th October, 2021
I had never heard of the Black Ballet, but I am so happy to have sat and witnessed their 19th season on stage, and what a beautiful start it has been. On Tuesday 12th October, The Quays theatre, at the Lowry, Salford displayed two new pieces from the Black Ballet; ‘Then Or Now’ and ‘The Waiting Game’.
Choreography by William Tuckett, lighting design by David Plater, costume design by Yukiko Tsukamoto, and poetry, Adrienne Rich (1929-2012). Directory of poetry Fiona L Bennett, poetry recordings Hafsah Bashir, Natasha Gordon and Michael Shaeffer:
‘Then Or Now’ focuses on the idea that each and every reaction and action we take whether it is responding or passive can inevitably be interpreted as a political action. Our actions 1929, 2012 and even more so now hold more weight than ever before and this was shown symbolically, metaphorically and realistically in the movements and choreography of ‘Then Or Now’. Moments stood out to me throughout, in particular the role of Cira Robinson, amongst the beauty and grace of the ballet she shone like a diamond; her performance cleaving itself through the ensemble. During a sequence where Robinson is passed from Mthuthuzeli November and Jose Alves, I felt the intensity of Rich’s poetry. When watching ‘Then Or Now’, I was drawn to the four female leads; Rosanna Lindsey, Sayaka Ichikawa, Cira Robinson and Isabela Coracy. I felt a sense of female vulnerability and growth from them. I felt that when focusing on the message that each reaction and action holds the weight of itself, and I saw my own story developing before my eyes; I saw these beautiful, powerful women in different stages of a female’s life. I saw love in all unconditional manners and I saw each of them tell the audience their own story, in their own way to Heinrich Franz von Beiber’s composition Passacaglia for solo violin (1976). The sound of these violins complimenting Adrienne Rich’s ‘Dark Fields Of The Republic’ allowed me to become lost in this world of politic oscillation. My only grievance with this first piece was that Hafsah Bashir’s, Natasha Gordon’s and Michael Shaffer’s tone I felt didn’t compliment what was happening on stage, which made me question why wasn’t this complimenting what was going on, on stage. If this was intentional, what was the intention behind it as I found at times the abrupt tones of voice congest my cognitive receptors.
Choreography by Mthuthuzeli November, costume design by Peter Todd, lighting design David Plater, door design Richard Bolton and Phil Cristodolou and dramaturg Natalie Vijver:
‘The Waiting Game’ consists of 3 separate movements / pieces; The Waiting Game (2019), Less (2008) and Something’s Got A Hold Of Me (1962). The monologue to start was the first in an array of powerful moments in this second piece of choreography from Black Ballet. Inspired by the practitioner Samuel Beckett the audience see’s how mundane yet questionable life is. How repetitive, predictable and ostracising living alone in this world can be and how we can ask the question “Is time just a constant reminder that there will be a tomorrow?” I felt like this piece was more contemporary and modern in comparison with ‘Then Or Now’, and I felt more comfortable with this piece. I enjoyed the lighting design and choreography of the door and how Muthuthuzeli November wanted to break out yet struggling to simply open the door. It resonated with me that we are given doors in life and we have the option to open them or leave them closed, I felt when watching the ballet that we were stuck in the protagonist’s mind, with only himself, at times, to keep him company. Sayaka Ichikawa beautifully clowned around as November’s shadow and mirrored him to Ljova and the Kontraband’s Less; a moment I loved dearly. The finale with ‘Something’s Got A Hold Of Me’, curtesy of Etta James herself added a little familiarity for the audience whilst acknowledging the metaphorical questions being asked about whether life has a hold of a person – or whether that person can choose to play their own move at a later time from within life’s constraints.
Overall Black Ballet have woken my senses to contemporary and original Ballet; alongside composers from the 16th, 19th and 21st centuries. I loved each moment and I cannot wait to be a part of their circle of friends and watch their 20th season.