The Guardian, 2nd March 2012

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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 it gives to choreographers. Martin Lawrance is primarily a creator of modern dance, yet in his second commissioned work for Black Ballet, he uses classical vocabulary to create what may be his best work to date. Captured is an erotic, angry chamber piece set to Shostakovich’s 11th String Quartet. And the fiery emotion that flares across its music galvanises both Lawrance and his four dancers.

There is little about the choreography that’s strikingly original: with its long fluent phrases and wide-angled body shapes, it’s reminiscent of early Jirí Kylián or Christopher Bruce. But there’s a propulsive kick, a fierce internal energy to the movement that reacts to the score in exhilarating detail. In articulating the currents of territorial emotion that crackle between the dancers, it elicits some of the strongest performances I’ve yet seen from this company.

Captured easily dominates the two other works that open the programme: Jonathan Goddard’s Running Silent, and Jonathan Watkins’s Together Alone. Although, I like very much the latter’s witty rhythmic interplay of languid and sharp. Christopher Hampson’s Storyville takes up the whole of the second half. It’s a New Orleans take on the Seven Deadly Sins (much of its accompanying music is Kurt Weill), tracking the downfall of innocent farmgirl Nola from prostitution to alcoholic ruin. Hampson tells his story deftly, with just seven dancers and no set. But in contrast to Captured, its handling of sex and corruption looks politely balletic.

Only in the final scene do you sense a hinterland of ugliness and danger. Cira Robinson is excellent as the drunken ravaged Nola; both her heart and body appear genuinely broken as she tries to fight her demons for one last time.

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