From adventurous choreography to the shoes on the dancers’ feet, Ballet Black is transforming the dance landscape. Zoë Anderson finds out how they do it.
We try to explore these mine workers who lose their lives, for wanting to be paid better, and what the consequences are for those left alive. There’s a sense of continuity – the mine strike in 1946, and then many years later, in 2012, the same thing happens.
Within this company, ballet is finding new roots as dancers move seamlessly from pointes to deep plie and from a classical jeté into an articulated roll in an exciting evolution of the form.
[Washa] The piece is a triumphant fusion of classical and modern dance into the millennia-old African culture, which realises November’s aim to cause the inner fire of the dancers to suffuse through their audience.
Sayaka Ichikawa delivered a sensational performance as Matilda, from the sensual embrace with her lover – an erotic effect that was doubly impressive when they were lying on a “bed” assimilated from the side-slats of wooden chairs – to the panic of their discovery and on through her degrading humiliation. It was an exceptional dramatic tour de force.
..November’s truly unforgettable solo most epitomises resistance. To insistent rhythmic chanting, and with a Zulu warrior’s endurance and physical prowess, he relentlessly lunges into high kicks with raised arms, followed by stamps and jumps from squats, beating the ground with his feet, his body an explosive star.
You can almost feel the weight of hardship and injustice in November’s choreography, while the pas de deux for him and Cira Robinson brings the miners’ suffering and frustration into tender and intimate focus. It’s a visceral piece of dance and all the dancers shine.
Ballet Black’s Triple Bill is an outstanding exploration and celebration of varying aspects of African culture and history. The passion and commitment the company have for creating work that opens ballet up to more diverse and under-represented audiences is obvious.
The applause at the end expressed not only our appreciation of the dancers’ technical mastery but also how deeply we were affected by what we had seen…Ballet Black were new to me: I will make sure I see them when next they come my way, and I urge you to do the same.
A duet between one miner and his wife feels more poignant than any fairytale pas de deux, and every bit as graceful.
The five dancers – three women, two men, all in sharp acid-bright suits – are across such shifts in mood as they hip-sway into a cool dude groove or couple up in contrasting duets where one pair has snap and crackle in their bones, the other is smooch-close and slippery-sensual with it.
Through it all, though, the humanity, the aching sense of everyday grind, of struggle, of fight and exhaustion, is expressed with great depth of emotion by the whole company. The ensemble scenes are explosive, energetic but also aching in their sense of loss.
This is ballet that is so imaginative, fresh and alive, I would encourage people who think they don’t like dance to go and see it. People who do love dance won’t need any encouragement. They will adore it all the more.
The choreography was long and involved, and I can’t even imagine the physicality it takes to perform a piece like that. With every minute that passed, it felt like another layer of an onion was peeled off, revealing very raw emotions underneath. There was absolute beauty in their unity.
For me, the lasting memory of Ballet Black is one of unique, powerful storytelling performed by remarkable dancers, with the strength and agility of world-class athletes. No wonder there was a standing ovation.
It’s a fully charged onslaught of the senses….
A duet between Sayaka Ichikawa, now in a drab blue dress and headscarf, and José Alves is painful in its intimacy. They stand close, foreheads touching, sharing their love, their breath and their fear, and dance in weaving, wrapping patterns…It was an evening when ballet has found an authentic black voice and it’s time to celebrate.
Ballet Black: Pendulum / CLICK! / INGOMA at the Barbican By Graham Watts, 20 March 2019 Opening its eighteenth season (how is that possible?), Cassa Pancho’s chamber ballet ensemble has now clocked up 45 original commissions and last year’s newbie, The Suit by Cathy Marston, garnered two gongs in the…
As founder Cassa Pancho noted in a post-show talk at the company’s recent triple bill at the Barbican, “it’s not just about redressing the lack of diverse bodies on stage but also the stories that are being told. It’s about changing the very gatekeepers of ballet.”
Not only do the dancers dance, they also sing, of hope, of redemption and delivery from hardship. Gestures are supplicating, hands in prayer. The womenfolk in grey dresses and headscarves are a mighty force, too, fists at the ready in impassioned solos and group dance. Revolution is in the air. The air turns red.
The triple bill contained an ideal balance of exhilarating works, between abstraction and narration, drama and comedy, grief and glee. The company, packed with brilliant dancers and role models for the next generation, has undeniably reached an exciting stage of maturity with its own impactful voice.
José Alves’s powerful solo which conveys his increasing fury and frustration with deceptively simple means: running on the spot or smacking angrily against his rubber boots. There is a mournful soliloquy for Sayaka Ichikawa who represents the grieving womenfolk of the mining community, standing downstage, pounding a rhythm with her clenched fists against the fourth wall.
As Ingoma comes to an end, the company’s power as a unit is palpable. The sweat pouring off their bodies is testament to the passion they have for their art, as is the applause from the audience. Ballet Black is certainly a dance company to look out for.
For me the pinnacle on press night was a heartfelt, physically full-throttle solo from Isabela Coracy followed by a tremulously sensitive one from Sayaka Ichikawa.
…in the outpouring of grief there is distress and pride, helplessness and yet a fierce energy for the fight. The dancers dig deep to serve November’s heartfelt work.
Ingoma demonstrates not only the individual physicality of each dancer, but their strength as an assembly. The company move as one beast, sweeping across the shadowy space, pick-axes above their heads and fists held high.
Of the people who didn’t stay [for the post-show talk], more than a few stopped on their way out to pose excitedly for photographs and selfies against the background of the dancers of Ballet Black in their sleek, sharp, larger-than-life poster.
Once again, never hindered by the smaller size of their company, Ballet Black has proved themselves to be one of the true and best innovators in the dance world. If there was ever any worry that ballet has become so antiquated that it risks making itself irrelevant or obsolete, Cassa Pancho’s brilliant troupe will restore your faith in the longevity of one of theatre’s oldest surviving traditions.
Even before the ballet started I was already seeing the effect of an all-PoC cast. I saw more black and Asian audience members than I have ever seen before at a ballet. It was exhilarating and also threw every other ballet audience I have been a part of into stark contrast.
It was a pleasure to see some of the female dancers performing in Freed’s new pointe shoe colours, created in collaboration with the company and marking a significant step towards increased diversity in ballet.
The diversity of the two pieces demonstrate that ballet can be anything it wants to be: classical, powerful, seductive, edgy, contemporary or even laugh out loud funny and Ballet Black does them all justice. Who knew Shakespeare could be such incredible fun?
Ballet Black is a dance company with a difference. For starters, they have recently collaborated on a new brown satin ballet shoe, which – unbelievably – wasn’t available for dancers of colour until now. And aside from their cultural impact as an award-winning, neo-classical ballet company made up of international dancers of black and Asian descent, their performances are completely mesmerising.
In a touring double bill of drama and wit, Ballet Black (founded in 2001), a company of seven, punches above its weight. Having reviewed the company three consecutive years in a row, I missed this bill at the Barbican in March and, lo, here’s a lucky chance to catch up with it in Kingston.
Ballet Black remind us powerfully that in these times of increasing division and intolerance talent knows no boundaries of race or gender. They show us that we need to challenge those who seek to thwart ambition on false grounds of race, gender or orientation and they help us to celebrate the joyous talent and skills of this group of dancers…
Never before has a suit, simply dressing a hanger had so much presence, and it becomes the eighth person in the company.
Ballet Black may be a small company — there are only seven dancers — but its influence is far greater than its size…Times are changing, albeit slowly, and the Ballet Black dancers show children from different ethnic backgrounds that ballet is something they can seriously consider as a career.
It’s a production which typifies what Ballet Black is all about. Founded to provide roles for black and Asian dancers, it blends traditional ballet’s exacting discipline and contemporary dance’s inventiveness with virtuosity and elegance.
In a flurry of glitter, he turns Shakespeare’s romantic comedy on its head, with same-sex relationships and a cracking soundtrack, although it’s the beauty of Titania and Bottom’s duet that’s most striking of all.
Small in size, but simply charged with far-reaching aspirations and brimming over with high end talent: that, more or less, sums up the London-based Ballet Black…
While Coracy gives a show-stealing performance, the rest of the cast are also extremely funny. Their burlesque manner is smattered with audible gasps, loud snores, squeals and over-the-top facial expressions.
There are some gorgeous scenes, particularly within the pulsing jazzier interludes, and the ensemble are superb..
Monday night’s double bill from Ballet Black was a game changer, an evening of dance that raised standards to an impressive new high and left the audience whooping and yelling for more.
Red is such a fun piece demonstrating how the company can deliver both light and shade in equal measure as well as nailing the characterisation. Hopefully this will live long in their expanding repertoire.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s new work Little Red Riding Hood utilises the symbolism of adolescent sexual awakening to create a heroine that resists victimhood and embraces defiance.
In terms of fully delivering on its promise [House of Dreams] is the success of the night and really underlines the classical chops of the company – nothing ropey here.
This was an altogether outstanding evening: an admirably varied and testing, showcase for the all-round talents of this remarkable company. The sense of a special occasion was reflected in the buzz among the audience at the end amid a desire for a return visit before long.
Ballet Black are a rare commodity in the dance world. Not because they’re a ballet company made up exclusively of black and Asian dancers – although that’s inspiring in itself – but because they’re a small-scale chamber ballet company with a mission to commission new work, operating without any of the infrastructure bigger companies take for granted.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s new take on Red Riding Hood is the kind of ambitious one-act storytelling creation that gives Ballet Black its distinctive advantage in the independent dance scene. The piece has a vibrant atmosphere, dynamic choreography, deliciously entertaining music, standout performances and a sense of dark fun. And it’s almost a runaway success.
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.
…when she encounters the Wolf – a strutting, wiggling, undulating seduction machine, played superbly by Mthuthuzeli November, whose excessively long rope tail is put to all manner of use.
Mthuthuzeli November is perfect as the slinky seducer, while Cira Robinson’s Riding Hood journeys from bewildered naivety, knee-trembling sensual surrender to a final act of bold defiance.
Little Red Riding Hood is a riot of a dance…This eclectic triple bill draws inspiration from Debussy and Shostakovich before concluding with a funny, gutsy spin on a fairytale.
The eight Ballet Black dancers are some of Britain’s hardest workers and this programme shows them at their best: accomplished, versatile and great communicators. Their audiences too are growing. A poll at the after show talk showed a considerable number of first timers, satisfied customers that will hopefully broaden the appeal of ballet.
The innuendos come thick and fast. How come she has only one flower when the saucy burlesque girls have two each? And grandmother is played en travesti by José Alves on pointe. The facts of life confuse, but isn’t a bad boy with that hip-hop rolling gait irresistible; does she love it!
And so Pancho lands another successful evening’s programme. There is enough here for traditionalists and contemporary fans alike to be satisfied, as well as material strong enough to showcase these elegant yet athletic dancers to the best of their great abilities.
‘I really do think that what Cassa Pancho the artistic director is doing is absolutely vital,’ he says. ‘Because what she constantly says is she’s waiting for the normalness of it all. It might be that we’re beginning to have ethnic diversity on stage, but until that’s mirrored in the audience I don’t think her job is done.’
packed with dash, daring and joie de vivre
I don’t know much about ballet, but I know what I like. And I like Ballet Black.
showcasing grace and ingenuity to eager spectators
Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November enact courtship to music by Steve Reich in Pita’s ambitious new work Cristaux
Mixed triple bill from a lively, likeable company, with Christopher Hampson’s Storyville making a strong return
It’s impossible not to like Ballet Black, a small company with big ideas
precise, perfectly executed and full of star quality
a company that provides positive role models to young, aspiring black and Asian dancers.
All up, another win for Ballet Black
Ballet Black triple bill – an erotic Jack and Jill meet voodoo pirates. Works by Kit Holder, Will Tuckett and Mark Bruce showcase the company’s considerable range
It has become the norm for each Ballet Black season to showcase a new one-act ballet that utilises all its dancers (once just six, now grown to eight), which is building a distinctive repertory of substantial works by some of the best choreographers around.
Now in its 14th year, Ballet Black made its name as Britain’s first ballet company for black and Asian dancers, but has built its reputation as a small ensemble with a commitment to new choreography that punches above its weight.
It’s typical of Ballet Black that this clever, enterprising company should be the first to commission a work from Mark Bruce, in the wake of his award-winning production of Dracula. Typical, too, that the result, Second Coming, shows us such new things about choreographer and dancers alike.
While ballet has a long way to go in addressing these issues, there are plenty of dancers in the contemporary realm who are actively working to change the white-washed, body oppressive world of ballet. Behold, 17 ballet icons who are changing the face of dance
Star of the evening is unquestionably Arthur Pita’s A Dream within a Midsummer Night’s Dream which manages to be magical, funny, beautiful and anarchic while distilling the essence of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy into a heady post-classical concoction.
Kudos to choreographer Arthur Pita for giving us possibly the first lesbian kiss in ballet. His new piece for Ballet Black, A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, also offers up mambo in pointe shoes, Bottom and Titania getting it on to the sounds of Barbra Streisand and a female Puck in a boy scout uniform and stick-on beard.
Arthur Pita’s A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows Ballet Black’s dancers at their most classical – then gleefully twists that upside down in a burst of Shakespeare-inspired mayhem. The company have never looked better.
Ballet Black review – oldschool charm, newage wit
BB’s new mixed programme at the Royal Opera House shows off the company’s considerable strength and range
This is repertory that any large company would be happy to own. And the heroic Ballet Black have managed it on a shoestring.
IN TWELVE short years, Ballet Black has made quite a name for itself, winning prestigious awards and forging an enviable link with the Royal Opera House. What it hasn’t done however, is visit Scotland – until now.
Ballet Black is the black diamond in the crown of modern ballet and once again has pushed the boundaries. Catch them touring if you can.
Sitting within sweat sniffing distance, I still couldn’t consider these dancers as human beings not too unlike myself. Their lean lengthy limbs, sheathed in firm hairless, healthy flesh, musculature prominent. A faint outline of occasionally provoked nipples being one of the only features reminding you that these dancers have real bodily functions and juices.
A whistle-stop trip to Russia immediately after this show has allowed the rare luxury of the overall scope and flavour of an ambitious quadruple bill of new work to simmer in my consciousness before writing this review. To begin with let’s consider the rarity of that brief statement – a “quadruple bill of new work”: We may not experience such a programme that often
The opening half of the show is fun-time for the dancers, a trio of short works giving them a chance to shine. Ludovic Ondiviela’s frothy love duet Dopamine (You Make My Levels Go Silly) is the pick, a hyperactive fizz of first love, but Robert Binet’s Egal and The One Played Twice by Javier de Frutos aren’t far behind, the pure joy of dance spilling out from every step.
Ballet Black, the award-winning company founded to provide role models for black and Asian ballet dancers, is now 12 years old. It has established its own identity, which is as much about new work as it is about the colour of the dancers’ skin. It’s a small, sparky company with plenty of ambition and swagger.
The award-winning company of black and Asian dancers founded by Cassa Pancho in 2001 comes storming back onto the Linbury stage with a toothsome quartet of works. A brace of duets, an amuse-yeux from dance jester Javier de Frutos and a full-blooded narrative contribute to an immensely varied and satisfying programme.
There should be no need for a company called Ballet Black, just as there should be no need for all-female political party shortlists. But there is, and for two reasons: to offer a platform for classically trained dancers of colour, particularly women, conspicuously absent from Britain’s big ballet companies; and to provide role models for a rising generation of talented kids. But in the 12 years of Ballet Black’s existence, it has found itself a third raison d’être. It’s hard to think of another small company that even comes close to its turnover of new work.
Perhaps the most impressive of Pancho’s achievements is that over the years she has commissioned more than 30 danceworks.
Ballet Black may struggle against an inexplicable lack of state funding, yet it continues to make a heroic investment in new choreography. This season its adventurous policies pay dividends with Javier de Frutos’s new piece, The One Played Twice.
My admiration for Cassa Pancho and her company knows no bounds. Embarking on its eleventh year, Ballet Black opened its 2012 season with four world premieres by “Premier League” choreographers with these – now traditional – curtain-raising performances at The Royal Opera House. This season at Covent Garden is longer than in previous years and the company has doubled its performance dates for the year, which will also see it venture overseas, in a first visit to Italy…
Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, London Zoë Anderson Now eleven years old, Ballet Black has a confidence and spark. Initially founded to promote black dancers in classical ballet, the company has become an end in itself. This is a taut evening of new work by rising and established choreographers, fluently…
Ballet Black – review Royal Opera House, London by Judith Mackrell Sex and corruption … Storyville, performed by Black Ballet at the Royal Opera House Ballet Black may have been founded as a platform for black and Asian classical dancers, but you have to love it, too, for the opportunities…
Short Dance Works/Ballet Black – review by Clifford Bishop – 02 March 2012 Now over ten years old, Ballet Black showcases four energetic and inspired new dances at the Royal opera House Six decades after George Balanchine first cast the black dancer Arthur Mitchell opposite a white ballerina, and in…
Ballet Black – review Linbury Studio theatre, London by Luke Jennings, The Observer, Sunday 4 March 2012 Creating repertoire for a chamber ballet company is tricky. How do you ring the changes, given sparse resources and a mere handful of dancers? Ballet Black, now in their 11th year, have had…
“Ballet Black is a small miracle of a company..”
“Ballet Black’s vivid choreography experiments with the delicate paradoxes of the orchestrated and the discordant…”
“… the company evoked classical ballet with plenty of piroutes, pas de deux, and stunning point work, without the formality and stuffiness of traditional ballet…”
“the brand-new work of the season, Orpheus, by Will Tuckett – the first narrative work Ballet Black have staged – is a triumph.”
“The “blindfold” sequence is especially good, clearly conveying their love and longing…”
“…has magicked into being a neo-expressionist chamber ballet whose sombre tone is counterpointed by storytelling of shimmering clarity.”
“The company’s energy and maturity is the best birthday present.”
“A ballet company to watch…”
“Ballet Black’s sixth season at the Linbury Studio Theatre is a mixed bag of playful and energetic approaches to ballet…”
“Oguike has never created a classical ballet before, and it’s typical of Ballet Black’s intrepid commissioning style to have invited him to make a work.”
“Ballet Black keeps getting better.”
“…a finely-balanced exercise in melting, romantic softness.”
“…until dancers of colour are properly represented in Britain’s big classical companies, this small beacon of excellence will have an inspirational role to play.”
“…the company look fleet and fantastic.”
“The dancers are sleek and focused, the choreography new, while the whole enterprise has a sparky assurance.”
“…For unflagging energy and unstoppable spirit, Ballet Black is phenomenal….”
“…The choreography has a clean edge and a strong and distinctive personality that exudes warmth…”
“…this small ensemble a repertory that is often fresher and more revealing than the programmes of larger companies….”
“…director Cassa Pancho has put together a neo-classical programme that would shame bigger troupes…”
“…There’s a tension between toughness and elegance in the work which is always technically impressive…”
“…Fluent, fluid and bringing colour to the ballet scene…”
“… the commitment to new work is pretty much unparallelled in the UK…”
“…the latest programme features some of the most original new ballets to be shown this season…”
“…speed and thrusting energy within a context of constantly zigzagging movement…”
“…dancers moving crisply, with well-focused partnering and buoyant solo work….”
“…a company with an astonishing amalgamation of strength and elegance…”
“…Cassa Pancho is a dance person with a mission — in her case, as the founder (in 2001) of Ballet Black, to establish more role models for young black and Asian dancers in classical ballet in Britain…”
“…The sight of gorgeous Monica Stephenson strutting her Balanchine style in a tiny white bikini, or tall Damien Johnson streaking out in a series of diagonal jumps of radiant poise and finish – leaves such qualms looking quite absurd…”
“…For all this, credit to Pancho, and credit to her six young dancers who have poise and enthusiasm and allure. At the Linbury they showed a tenacity you do not always see in heritage troupes, and although very much fledglings, they had the commitment of old pros… ”
“…as the choreography flexes its emotional muscle, with a crackle of combative dance, the electricity on stage promises a brave future for this company…”
“…The programme was popular with the audience with some at the end calling out and stamping, as though at a football match…”
“…The stealth of a gazelle poised with the grace and elegance of a Nubian spirit is the only way one can describe the amazing opening of Ballet Black’s current season of works by four choreographers…”
“…Pancho founded the company in response to her own question: “If no one is providing role models and inspiration to young dancers, how will we integrate the art form more fully?…”