The Guardian, 5th March 2017

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Ballet Black review – 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

Barbican, London
by Judith Mackrell
Sun 5 Mar 2017

There are so many shining ways in which Ballet Black have made themselves a model of diversity. It’s not just their policy of giving a home to black and Asian dancers, nor the following they’ve built over the last 16 years – a vivid rebuttal to the idea that ballet appeals only to a white, middle-aged, middle-class audience. Equally significant is the joyously unpredictable repertory they dance, commissioned not only from young classical choreographers but modern dance-makers experimenting with ballet.

Interestingly, the least successful work in the company’s latest triple bill is created by the most established of the choreographers. Michael Corder has a reputation for making ballets of poetry and class, yet in House of Dreams he seems to struggle to spark with his four dancers or his Debussy score. Aside from the dreamy second duet, which ebbs and flows expressively on the current of the music, little of the work rises above a formal exercise.

Martin Lawrance is far less well known as a maker of ballets, but Captured is a terrific example of what a modern choreographer can bring to the classical vocabulary. The work is a setting of Shostakovich’s 11th string quartet, and Lawrance’s fraught but elegant dance embodies not only the music’s racing pulse but the physicality of its sound, the visceral contact between the dancers’ bodies mimicking the friction of bow against string. Even though it has no plot, Captured builds up a powerful dramatic hinterland. The cradling defensive movements of the four dancers speak of an invisible external threat, while their edgy, asymmetrical partnering, their coupling and recoupling, speak of the anxiety and potential treachery within their own relationships. Like a well-crafted short story, this work resonates with meanings larger than itself, and it makes the dancers look both sophisticated and alive.

No less flattering to its cast is Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Little Red Riding Hood, a funny, gutsy spin on the traditional fairytale that’s clearly a riot to dance. Its heroine (the excellent Cira Robinson) starts out as dutiful daughter, cautiously afraid of the big, bad world that encircles her home, but as curiosity and instinct draw her into the orbit of the Wolf (a seductively shiny, snake hipped performance from Mthuthuzeli November) and into the feral party pack of his friends, she is initiated into a thrillingly unknown world of sexual danger and promise.

Set to a delightfully arcane mix of French popular songs and jazz, the work is testimony to Lopez Ochoa’s exuberant powers of invention – it’s crammed to the brim with vaudeville comedy, sharp characterisation and witty design.

But the profusion of material also tips frustratingly into a flaw, as the ballet becomes so packed with detail, so hectic with symbolism that the storytelling becomes difficult to decipher. Red Riding Hood is very close to being an exceptionally smart, entertaining and original ballet, but Lopez Ochoa needs to step back, to cut and clarify to make her ideas fly.