The Guardian, 10th February 2011

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Ballet Black – review Linbury Studio theatre, London
by Judith Mackrell
The Guardian, Thursday 10 February 2011

Ballet Black deserve to celebrate as they stage their 10th-anniversary programme. This small, determined company have not only carved out a much-needed niche for black and Asian classical dancers, but also proved ballet can flourish on the small scale, by commissioning fresh, interesting work that doesn’t rely on expensive production.

The first half takes a trawl through their back catalogue. It is a frustratingly patchy selection, given some of the great material this company has performed. But it is always a treat to see Martin Lawrance’s Pendulum (2009), a wickedly intelligent duet of swerving angles, high attitude and tensile pauses. And the brand-new work of the season, Orpheus, by Will Tuckett – the first narrative work Ballet Black have staged – is a triumph.

There are just eight dancers on the tiny Linbury stage; no scenery or props. Yet this setting of Stravinsky’s score contains a world of emotion. The bare bones of the story are told through simple, almost archaic mime (I guess Tuckett has been watching early Balanchine): fluttering fingers become tears, a gaping mouth is a silent scream.

Tuckett puts flesh on it by other means. His handling of space is amazing, as criss-crossing Furies form a barrier between Euridice, and Orpheus charms the dead into rapt, circling devotion. The pure dance, intuitive and inventive, rises to rhapsodic beauty in the main duet, where long, spooling phrases catch the light of the lovers’ mutual adoration.

The narrative is cunningly paced for an unpredictably piercing climax. When Orpheus understands he has lost Euridice, he crumples in an agonisingly slow collapse of grief; she meanwhile is lifted away from him, slipping and swirling back to death.