‘Say It Loud’ shortlisted for Best Dance at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards
The Company, now 9 dancers, (José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Alexander Fadayiro, Taraja Hudson, Sayaka Ichikawa, Rosanna Lindsay, Helga Paris-Morales, Mthuthuzeli November and Ebony Thomas) began work on a new double bill, Ballet Black: Pioneers, featuring a revival of Then Or Now (Will Tuckett, 2020) and a new ballet by Mthuthuzeli November, Nina: By Whatever Means about the life of iconic musician and activist, Nina Simone.

Cassa Pancho was named in the Arts section of the 'Black Excellence: The Powerlist 2023', celebrating influential Britons of African and Caribbean descent. Say It Loud was shortlisted for Best Dance at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards and the Company was nominated for Best Mid-Scale Company at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. Isabela Coracy won Best Dance Production or Performance at the Black British Theatre Awards for her portrayal of Nina Simone in Nina: By Whatever Means, and Mthuthuzeli November won Best Choreographer for the same ballet. We also welcomed guest artist, Yuri Marques, who joined from Scottish Ballet for our Pioneers tour. In May that year, we took part in United By Music, a unique film opening for the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, that brought together artists from the United Kingdom and the Ukraine.

In July, we bid a fond farewell, to Senior Artist, José Alves after 8 years with the Company, Junior Artist Alexander Fadayiro and Apprentice Artist Rosanna Lindsay. In September, we welcomed 5 new dancers to BB: Acaoã de Castro from Brazil, Megan Chiu from the USA, Bhungane Mehlomakulu and Mikayla Isaacs from South Africa, and Love Kotiya from India. We embarked on our first ever tour of Canada, including performances at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the Fall For Dance North festival in Toronto.

Our third Junior School location opened in East London, bringing the total number of classes offered per week to 27.
The 20th Year Anniversary for Ballet Black
2022 saw a return to full touring. The Company, (José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Alexander Fadayiro, Sayaka Ichikawa, Rosanna Lindsay, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas) commenced work on Ballet Black at 20, a new double bill of ballets to celebrate our 20th anniversary (slightly delayed due to the pandemic). The bill featured Black Sun, a new work from South African choreographer, Gregory Maqoma and Say It Loud, a new work directed by Cassa Pancho and featuring choreography by Pancho and the BB Company artists. We were featured on the cover of the February edition of The Dancing Times and toured to sell-out houses in London (Barbican, The Royal Opera House and Theatre Royal Stratford East), Edinburgh, Oxford, Newbury, Cambridge, Birmingham, York, Watford, Durham and Salford. In September that year, we welcomed two new recruits to the Company, Taraja Hudson from the USA and Helga Paris-Morales from Puerto Rico.

We achieved a clean sweep at the Black British Theatre Awards, winning Best Dance Production (Ballet Black at 20 Double Bill), Best Solo Dance Performance for Cira Robinson, Best Use of Technology for our film, EIGHTFOLD, and Best Costume Designer to Jessica Cabassa for her designs on Say It Loud. Our 2020 ballet, Then Or Now (Will Tuckett) was shortlisted for Best Dance at the 2022 South Bank Sky Arts Awards and was also nominated at the UK Theatre Awards. Cira Robinson was shortlisted in the Best Female Dancer category at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, and The Company won the inaugural Best Mid-Scale Company prize, also at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, making history by winning in all three categories (Best Mid-Scale in 2022, Best Independent Company in 2012 and Outstanding Company in 2009) over the years.

The BBC acquired a three-year license to show Ballet Black films Then Or Now and The Waiting Game on BBC iPlayer. At the end of the year, we said a very sad farewell to Senior Artist, Cira Robinson, who left the Company after 15 wonderful years as a dancer and a teacher at the BB Junior School. Cira left to become the Artistic Director of the prestigious Yorkshire Ballet Seminars.
The Company launched the digital platform, #BBOnFilm
The Company (José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Alexander Fadayiro, Sayaka Ichikawa, Marie Astrid Mence, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas) were able to return to work in the studio, together. Theatres were still closed but BB was able to collaborate with the Barbican to film the 2020 double bill of ballets. Our film EIGHTFOLD (director, Mark Donne, creative concept, Cassa Pancho) was licensed to broadcaster, Channel 4 and selected for over 22 international film festivals. The Company launched the digital platform, #BBOnFilm, supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Digital Accelerator Programme, enabling us to share films, online classes and other digital content through the BB website.

In May, the BB Junior School re-opened in Shepherd’s Bush location, and we launched another branch in Marylebone. In June, we were invited by Dame Darcey Bussell to take part in the British Ballet Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, a fundraising performance to help UK dance companies raise much needed money after the cancellation of performances throughout 2020 and 2021. This was BB’s first time back on stage since the pandemic. Later that month, we created a new short film, Table Talk, choreographed by Martin Lawrance. In September, we welcomed our first Trainee Artist, Rambert School graduate, Rosanna Lindsay. The Trainee Artist programme, a paid position within the Company, was devised to help vocational dance students counteract the year of training lost to lockdown restrictions. In October, we bid a fond farewell to Senior Artist, Marie Astrid Mencé, who left to have a baby. Later that month, we were able to perform live work again, visiting four cities on tour. We also began a collaboration with The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, to hold cinema screenings of our film work.
Ingoma wins both the Black British Theatre Award & the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production
The Company (José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Alexander Fadayiro, Sayaka Ichikawa, Marie Astrid Mencé, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas) prepared a new double bill of works, Then Or Now by Will Tuckett, and The Waiting Game by Mthuthuzeli November. This bill was due to premiere at the Barbican in March 2020, but was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID 19 in the UK. Facing an uncertain future, all touring was cancelled, the BB Junior School classes was suspended, and the Company artists and staff went on a hiatus. During this time, we moved our School activities online via video conferencing software, and as soon as restrictions were lifted, brought the Company back into the studio to begin devising choreography for film and free online classes for the BB website. This culminated in our first short film, Like Water, created by Mthuthuzeli November, inspired by the Zong Massacre in the 1780s. It was filmed Kingsgate Bay Beach, Margate, in the open-air, with no physical contact between the dancers, to comply with COVID protocols at the time.

On the 13th of March 2020, the murder of Breonna Taylor by police in the USA began to spark signs of a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. The unlawful killing of George Floyd by police on the 25th of May that same year opened the floodgates, bringing global attention to institutional and societal racism. BB were the subject of a huge influx of requests for support in improving diversity in the arts, leading Artistic Director, Cassa Pancho, to author a guide for dance school, professional companies and arts organisations, which was and continues to be widely used across the arts world.

As a gift to her dancers during the lockdown, and a way to keep their spirits up whilst theatres were closed indefinitely, Pancho commissioned eight choreographers, one per dancer, to create a solo for each company member: Monique Jonas, Mlindi Kulashe, Joseph Sissens, Gregory Maqoma, Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Peter Leung, Sophie Laplane and Hope Boykin. These were combined to create the film, EIGHTFOLD. EIGHTFOLD was Ballet Black’s response to the assumption that the only Black experience worth publicising was one of trauma and victimhood. Each solo had a different theme: joy, courage, strength, power, rage, love, hope and passion. The film was directed by Mark Donne, the director of photography was Mark Nutkins, and it was produced by Clapham Road Studios, with a script by Natasha Gordon and voiceover by Thandiwe Newton.

In October, Ingoma (choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November) won both the Black British Theatre Award and the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. Ingoma was also nominated for Best Dance at the 2020 South Bank Awards. BB was also featured in a BBC documentary, The Waiting Game, that followed the Company through the creation of the ballet of the same name.
Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Classical Male Dancer
In 2019, the Company (José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Sayaka Ichikawa, Marie-Astrid Mencé, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas) returned to the Barbican with a new triple: Pendulum (a revival of Martin Lawrance's 2009 duet), CLICK! created by Sophie Laplane, and a new narrative work, Ingoma, choreographed by Company dancer Mthuthuzeli November. Ingoma dealt with the South African miners' strike in Johannesburg in the 1940s and its effect on the black community in South Africa. This marked the first time BB had been able to commission a main stage ballet from within its own ranks, and tell the story of a significant moment in black history. Senior Artist, José Alves won a Critics' Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Classical Male Dancer, and choreographer Cathy Marston also won Best Classical Choreography for her 2018 BB piece, The Suit. BB's Chief Lighting Designer, David Plater, also won a Knight of Illumination Award for Best Dance Lighting for The Suit. BB returned to the newly re-opened Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House, and performed as guests with Company Wayne McGregor as part of The Grange Festival. In June, Company dancers Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli joined award-winning British Grime artist, Stormzy, as part of his headline set at Glastonbury. BB was also the featured guest company with Birmingham Royal Ballet as part of their 2019 triple bill. In October, BB welcomed British dancer Alexander Fadayiro to the Company as Apprentice Artist.
Freedom of the City of London Award
The 2018 Company, José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Sayaka Ichikawa, Marie Astrid Mence, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas returned to the Barbican with a new programme: a revival of the 2014 hit ballet, A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Arthur Pita, and a new narrative piece by British choreographer, Cathy Marston, inspired by the 1963 novel by South African author, Can Themba, The Suit. Artistic Director Cassa Pancho and Senior Artist Cira Robinson collaborated with Freed of London to create the first range of brown pointe shoes, to be launched later in 2018. Cassa was also awarded the Freedom of the City of London for her contribution to diversity in dance.
National Portfolio Organisation
The Company, now comprised of dancers José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson, Marie Astrid Mence, Mthuthuzeli November, Cira Robinson and Jacob Wye, revived the 2012 BB ballet, Captured, created by Martin Lawrance. Michael Corder made a new ballet, House of Dreams and internationally renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created a new version of Red Riding Hood. The triple bill opened at the Barbican to critical acclaim and toured extensively throughout the UK. After twelve years with the Company, Senior Artist and Company Ballet Master Damien Johnson left to pursue new opportunities in the US. Senior Artist Jacob Wye, also moved on after five years. BB moved to a new, larger studio in Marylebone, London and became part of the Arts Council's NPO (National Portfolio Organisation), ensuring regular funding for a four year period for the first time. The Company also welcomed new British Apprentice Artist, Ebony Thomas, a graduate of Elmhurst Ballet School.
Debut at the Barbican Theatre
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, Kanika, Isabela, Mthuthuzeli, Sayaka and Joshua) revived A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream for their first ever performances in the Netherlands at Holland Dance Festival, alongside To Fetch A Pail Of Water and Depouillement . Two new ballets were created: Cristaux (Arthur Pita) and To Begin, Begin (Christopher Marney) and audience favourite, Storyville was re-staged for the Company's debut at the Barbican Theatre, London in March 2016. Touring of the new triple bill and Dogs Don't Do Ballet (2012, Christopher Marney) continued through the Spring, including performances at Polka Theatre Wimbledon, DanceEast Ipswich, Connaught Theatre Worthing, Oxford Playhouse, Newbury Corn Exchange and The Lowry Salford. In July 2016 a South Bank Show about Ballet Black, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, aired on Sky Arts. At the end of the 2015/16 season, Kanika Carr and Joshua Harriette left the Company and BB welcomed the return of dancers José Alves from Brazil and Marie Astrid Mence from France. Touring of the triple bill featuring Storyville continued to November 2016, including debut performances at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Northern Stage Newcastle, Tramway Glasgow, Cast at Doncaster and Garrick Theatre Lichfield, plus return visits to Millfield Arts Centre Enfield, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre Leeds, Exeter Northcott, Watford Palace Theatre and Harlow Playhouse.
Nomination for a South Bank Sky Arts Award
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, Kanika, José, Isabela and Christopher) were joined by new Junior Artist, Marie-Astrid Mence from France. Two new ballets were created: To Fetch A Pail of Water? by Kit Holder (Birmingham Royal Ballet) and their latest narrative ballet, Second Coming, by award-winning dance maker, Mark Bruce, plus the revival of the critically acclaimed Depouillement originally created by Will Tuckett in 2009. International touring increased to include to Sardinia and Naples and the first ever visit to Germany at the Burghof in Lörrach. BB commissioned a new duet Rhapsody in Blue by Christopher Marney for their debut at the Henley Festival performing to over 3,000 people. In November 2015, Cira and Damien performed as part of the launch of the Black Power List 2016 event at the prestigious V&A Museum. Ballet Black's A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream (choreographed by Arthur Pita) was nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award. The Company's family ballet, Dogs Don't Do Ballet (Christopher Marney) continued to tour the UK. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, BB welcomed back Sayaka Ichikawa after a year off to have a baby, and new dancers, Mthuthuzeli November from South Africa and Joshua Harriette from the UK.
Founder become a Patron of Central School of Ballet
The Company (Cira, Damien, Jacob, José, Kanika and Sayaka) was joined by two new dancers: Isabela Coracy from Brazil, and Christopher Renfurm from Holland. Touring was extended to include Gorizia, Italy, and the Festival for Performing Arts in Bermuda. The Company created three brand new ballets that opened at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre, Two Of A Kind by Christopher Marney, Limbo by Martin Lawrance and A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Pita, followed by a tour of the UK. Senior Artist Cira Robinson received a nomination for Outstanding Classical Dancer at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, and Arthur Pita's Dream received nominations for Best New Classical Choreography as well as a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at the Olivier Awards. The Company created its first ever ballet aimed specifically at children and families, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, choreographed by Christopher Marney and based on the best-selling book by Anna Kemp. At the end of the year, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho became a Patron of Central School of Ballet.
Winner at Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards
BB welcomed Central School of Ballet graduate, Jacob Wye as a First Year Apprentice, and Brazilian dancer, José Alves as a Junior Artist and Autumn touring took the Company to Harlow, Poole, London, Lincoln and Newbury. The annual Linbury Theatre programme at the Royal Opera House featured new creations by choreographers Robert Binet, Ludovic Ondiviela and Javier de Frutos and a new narrative ballet, War Letters by Christopher Marney. The new programme toured to Cambridge Arts Theatre, Exeter Northcott, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Southhill Park, Salisbury Playhouse, G-Live, The Brunton, Harlow Playhouse, The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds and Theatr Brychieniog. The Company also won Best Independent Company of 2012 at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, and Founder and Artistic Director Cassa Pancho received an MBE in the New Year Honours for Services to Ballet.
Growing company
For BB’s 2011/12 season, the Company welcomed two new dancers: First Year Apprentice, Joseph Poulton, graduate of the Central School of Ballet, and Senior Artist, Sayaka Ichikawa. In addition to new tour locations in Lancaster and Newbury, the Company also returned to Canterbury, Winchester and new London venue, the artsdepot in Finchley. The Royal Opera House season grew to include seven performance and in April BB embarked upon its first foreign tour to Modena, Italy, as well as a UK tour of the Theatre Royal, Bury-St-Edmunds, Exeter Northcott Theatre, Brewhouse Arts Centre, The Curve, Leicester, Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham and the Cambridge Arts Theatre. The repertoire included new works from Jonathan Watkins (The Royal Ballet), Martin Lawrance (creator of Pendulum for BB in 2009) and Jonathan Goddard (Rambert Dance Company). Christopher Hampson also returned with a new narrative work, Storyville, a dark tale of love, corruption and survival, set in the nightclubs of 1900s New Orleans.
10 year anniversary
The start of their 2010/11 season saw the Company hire its first Apprentice dancers, Kanika Carr (Central School of Ballet) and Samuel Chung (Tring Park), taking the Company to eight dancers. The season also marked BB’s ten-year anniversary which was commemorated with their first ever narrative ballet, Orpheus, choreographed by Will Tuckett that premiered at the Royal Opera House in February. The Company also toured to new locations, including Canterbury, Winchester, Bury-St-Edmunds, Watford, Southend and Nottingham. British actor and playwright, Kwame Kwei Armah joined Ballet Black as Patron.
BB returned to the Royal Opera House
For the 2009/10 season, American dancer Damien Johnson re-joined the Company and Ballet Black returned to the Royal Opera House with another programme of world premieres, choreographed by Chief Ballet Master, Raymond Chai, hip-hop dance maker Robert Hylton, and award-winning choreographers Christopher Hampson and Henri Oguike. The Ballet Black Junior School added several new classes to its schedule and the Associate programme grew to 250 members. The Company debuted at East London Dance’s Local, International season, Greenwich Dance Agency’s Cabaret, appeared twice at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre and staged a special performance at the Royal Opera House, hosted by Kwame Kwei-Armah with talks from Richard Alston and Christopher Marney.
New contracts and debut at Hackney Empire
For their 2008/9 season, Ballet Black were able to offer year-round contracts for the first time. The Company was made up of BB veterans: American dancers Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss, Hugo Cortes from Brazil, and British dancers Chantelle Gotobed, Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi. BB commissioned brand new ballets from Martin Lawrance, Antonia Franceschi, Christopher Marney and Will Tuckett, and revived their 2007 ballet by Liam Scarlett, Hinterland. In addition to their sell-out season at the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House and the Cambridge Arts Theatre, the Company also made their debut at the Hackney Empire in London, the Latitude Festival in Suffolk and danced at the G20 summit for guests including Sarah Brown, Michelle Obama and J. K Rowling. The Company received its first nomination at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, for Best Classical Dancer for Sarah Kundi, and won the Dance Europe Award for Outstanding Dance Company of 2009.
Debut at Cambridge Arts Theatre and The Big Mission
Ballet Black returned to the Linbury Theatre in April with a brand new company of dancers: Darrius Gray, Cira Robinson, Jaime Rodney, Nandita Shankardass, Stephanie Williams and Jazmon Voss. The season was made up of world premieres by Shobana Jeyasingh, Liam Scarlett and Richard Alston. The company was also featured in the March edition of British Vogue and made its debut at the Cambridge Arts Theatre and The Big Mission, Swindon. At the start of the new season in November, BB welcomed new British dancers Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi into the company, along with returning dancers Chantelle Gotobed and Hugo Cortes (from 2007) and Cira and Jazz from the April season. 2008 also saw the addition of four new classes to the Ballet Black Junior School and the Associate Programme.
Sell-out season at Linbury
Ballet Black (now with dancers Hugo Cortes, Richard Glover, Chantelle Gotobed, Damien Johnson, So-Yeon Kim and Monica Stephenson) returned to the Linbury Studio for a brand new, sell-out season, this time featuring choreography by Liam Scarlett, Antonia Franceschi, Bawren Tavaziva, and Company Ballet Master, Raymond Chai. Ballet Black was also featured in a poll of ‘The Best of Black Britain’ in PRIDE Magazine.
First season at the Linbury Studio
Carlos Acosta, Principal Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet Company became the Patron of Ballet Black. The Company, (Damien Johnson, Carl Paris Adams, Denzil Bailey, Celia Grannum and So-Yeon Kim) had its first season at the Linbury Studio Theatre, with choreography by Antonia Franceschi, Stephen Sheriff and Irek Mukhamedov. After a cancelled tour to Poland left the Company in dire financial straits, Ballet Black returned to the Linbury, and sold out a one-off fundraising performance with just one week’s notice. The Associate Programme reached over 100 members.
Achieved registered charity status
The Company held a fundraising performance at the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House, with new addition to the Company, Camille Fitzworme, and also performed at the Global Fusion Festival, Hastings. The Company achieved Registered Charity Status.
Encore at the Cochrane
Raymond Chai took over as Chief Ballet Master, and the Company returned to the Cochrane theatre once more, with new dancers Neil Totton and Jeremiah Tatum. After a meeting with Deborah Bull, Creative Director for ROH2 at the Royal Opera House, Ballet Black moved its weekend classes and rehearsals to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Debut at the Cochrane Theatre
Ballet Black made its debut at the Cochrane Theatre, London, dancing in ballets by Stephen Sheriff and Patrick Lewis. German dancer, Silvestre Sanchez replaced Gerrard Martin. At the same time, Pancho opened the Ballet Black School for young children in Shepherd’s Bush, and the Ballet Black Associate Programme for teenage and professional dancers.
Ballet Black was founded by Cassa Pancho
The purpose of the Company was to provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet. Together with founding Ballet Master Denzil Bailey, Ballet Black’s first audition was held at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. After several months of searching, six dancers joined Cassa and Denzil to became the first members of Ballet Black: Frederic Claudel, Celia Grannum, Florence Kollie, Sia Kpakiwa, Gerrard Martin and Jake Nwogu. Ballet Black held its first performance at the Royal Academy of Dance, featuring choreography by Pancho and Bailey, as well as musical performances by Celloman and students from Trinity College of Music.