The Guardian, 7th Nov 2021

View original article website link

By Sarah Crompton
Sun 7 Nov 2021


Linbury theatre, London
The company celebrates 20 years of challenging, creative work with an eclectic double bill including a thrilling new piece from one of its own dancers

Ballet Black, formed to celebrate and improve diversity in classical ballet, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a programme that reveals how surely it has developed its own style over those years. It’s not just a company with a purpose, but one with character and with a brilliant eye for ballet that is both popular and challenging.

Its new double bill opens with Then or Now, a sophisticated, moody piece by choreographer Will Tuckett to a score that is a blend of the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Biber’s Passacaglia for solo violin arranged and recorded by Daniel Pioro. That blend of history and the urgent themes of black lives today is richly resonant and Tuckett responds with choreography that sometimes picks up the exact words (a head turned, a kiss blown) but more often mines the raw honesty of Rich’s verse. The dancing is elegant, emotional and superb.

Mthuthuzeli November is one of the dancers and he’s a rising choreographer as well. His second piece for the company, The Waiting Game, also relies on language for part of its score. November has written an absurdist meditation on the things holding us back in life and matched it with fluid, detailed steps that bring the words to life.

It opens with an amazing image of Sayaka Ichikawa peering over the top of a door, watching a hunched November as he broods on his future. That door (cleverly designed by Richard Bolton and Phil Cristodolou and lit by David Plater), opens to reveal a world of possibility and doubt as a slightly threatening chorus line attempts to entice him through it. Once tempted, he emerges glittering in sequins and everyone dances their heart out to a rousing number by Etta James.

Exhilarating in effect and full of ideas, the piece feels like a hit, confirming November’s talent and this remarkable company’s strong sense of itself.