November 07, 2021
It was nice to see something in the Royal Opera House‘s Linbury Theatre. The last time I was here it had been transformed into an entrance for Current, Rising, the “world’s first virtual reality opera” and a real spectacle. Now the Linbury is back to its primary function, staging great dance works which are perhaps more innovative or challenging than the Main Stage crowd-pleasers.
So this is where I came to see Ballet Black perform a double bill of short works. Ballet Black are a company founded by Cassa Pancho, for international dancers of Black and Asian descent. By celebrating diversity in their artists, they hope to encourage more diverse ballet audiences and engagement as well. This is the tail end of a tour, so if you don’t have tickets for the Royal Opera House today, you can catch them in Edinburgh later in November! I have been wanting to see Ballet Black for a while but this has been my first chance since the pandemic. I think this double bill was a perfect introduction as it shows the company’s range. Then or Now takes traditional ballet techniques to create something very fresh and modern; while The Waiting Game, choreographed by a member of the company, is very much more contemporary. Both are excellent.
I was impressed as well by the prowess of the dancers. Senior artist Cira Robinson stands out for the razor-sharp precision of her movements. Watching her dance with fellow Senior Artist José Alves is a dream, they are both at the top of their game. That is not to say that there are any weak links. You would never think that Ebony Thomas and Alexander Fadayiro were respectively a Junior and Apprentice Artist. And Isabela Coracy and Sayaka Ichikawa are wonderfully expressive. Rosanna Lindsey isn’t listed in the programme or on their website, but wherever they found her, they should keep her. And more on multi-talented Mthuthuzeli November later.
Then Or Now / The Waiting Game
Let’s look at these two works in more detail. As I mentioned above, Then or Now takes traditional ballet movements and turns them into modern choreography. The accompaniment is very interesting. The dancers move to Passacaglia for solo violin, a 1676 work by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, but also to poetry by Adrienne Rich. The von Biber work is arranged and recorded by Daniel Pioro, and Then and Now is choregraphed by Will Tuckett.
Both the music and the poetry introduce a rawness and a fragility. The dancers connect to the language and the sound of the strings. Rich’s poetry is a call to action, with themes of belonging and home. In different configurations, the dancers connect and interact with great intimacy. It’s really special to watch.
The Waiting Game is choreographed by Ballet Black Senior Artist Mthuthuzeli November. He draws on Beckett to create an absurdist/existentialist world. November dances the lead role, as a character battling uncertainty as he tries to understand the meaning of life. What I liked about The Waiting Game was its egalitarianism. There is little distinction between the male and female dancers in terms of costumes, and greater overlap in their movements than in Then or Now. We even at one point see the dancers lined up across the stage, en pointe more or less, the only difference being that the women are properly in pointe shoes. The Waiting Game is also a lot of fun, and shows the range of many of the dancers, particularly Sayaka Ichikawa.
I’m so pleased I finally saw Ballet Black! If you didn’t manage to catch this double bill, you can join me in keeping an eye on future works at the ROH or elsewhere.