The Guardian, 2nd February 2007

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Ballet Black – Linbury, London
by Judith Mackrell
The Guardian, Friday 2 February 2007

Between the five big ballet companies operating in Britain, there is little space left for newcomers to make an impact. But Cassa Pancho’s small ensemble has a high-profile mission. Working with only black and Asian classical dancers, it aims to shift perceptions of ballet as a traditionally white preserve. In terms of technical standards, Ballet Black still has to establish itself (the bigger companies, belatedly nurturing black talent, are now tough competition), but it has laid down a challenge to the profession in the quality and imagination of its repertory.

Bawren Tavaziva’s quintet Umdlalo kaSisi, one of the finalists for the 2004 Place prize, is a lyric meditation on love and loss that is eloquently rooted in the choreographer’s own Zimbabwean community. It is not a piece you could ever imagine danced on pointe. Yet Tavaziva’s adaptation of this material for Ballet Black is a small gem. Its sense of cultural place remains vivid, but the longer, leaner lines of the classically trained dancers, the speed of their pirouettes and the lightness of their footwork all add a flickering new energy and a lush sense of contrast.

The performers look terrific in it – as they do in Hinterland, from Liam Scarlett, fledgling choreographer at the Royal Ballet. Using all six members of the company, Scarlett responds to Shostakovich’s second Piano Trio with a rattling cascade of bright, clear dance, every configuration, every rhythm dovetailing sweetly into place.

Raymond Chai’s Taniec is less flattering: a courtly trio, it pushes its three dancers beyond their technical comfort zones. And Antonio Franceschi’s Shift, Trip… Catch has an underpowered start. But as the choreography flexes its emotional muscle, with a crackle of combative dance, the electricity on stage promises a brave future for this company.