The Guardian, 27th February 2009

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Ballet Black – Linbury, London
by Judith Mackrell
The Guardian, Friday 27 February 2009

The most interesting story about Ballet Black concerns less the colour of the dancers’ skins than their mix of choreographers. Commissioning work from young classical dance-makers, or from contemporary choreographers who haven’t previously worked in ballet, gives this small ensemble a repertory that is often fresher and more revealing than the programmes of larger companies.

This season, two works stand out. In Pendulum, Martin Lawrance makes his first foray into classical choreography with bravura. Fascinated by the virtuoso possibilities of pirouettes and pas de deux, he uses the beating-heart rhythms of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Moves to raise the pulse of the work to a competition, a threat or a chase. As the two dancers are pitted against each other in whirling turns, the accumulating tension gives them an aura of danger and glamour.

The surprises in Will Tuckett’s Depouillement come from his unusually intent focusing on his score, Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. This work may be a formal study in counterpoint, yet it can produce images more arresting than Tuckett’s narrative work. In the faster sections, Tuckett strings the movement tight along the nerve-trilling lines of the music; in the slower parts, he has a central couple echoed by two others like a memory, a dream, a regret.

It’s a fine work for the company – working within their technical limits yet placing them within a spacious musical world. To some extent, this is true of Liam Scarlett’s Hinterland, where sections from Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2 unleash vivid tensions between Gypsy flourish and classical restraint.

But it is disappointingly the reverse in Antonia Franceschi’s Kinderszenen, where the dancers struggle with the movement’s difficulties. The choreography has to be about the dancers, as well as the artist creating it.