The Independent, 14th February 2011

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Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, London
Reviewed by Zoe Anderson – Monday 14 February 2011

Ballet Black celebrates its 10th anniversary with happy confidence and a noticeable gear change. The company was founded to bring more black dancers into ballet and its aim was to provide role models.

Founder Cassa Pancho would look forward to the day when, with black classical dance a familiar part of the landscape, her own troupe would become obsolete. Not any more. This birthday programme shows off Ballet Black’s distinctive repertory and identity.

Will Tuckett’s new Orpheus is Ballet Black’s first narrative work. It’s a departure for Tuckett, too: his best work has tended to emphasise theatre, often using speech and complex design. Here, he has Stravinsky’s 1947 score, no scenery and simple, attractive costumes by Peter Todd.

Tuckett responds with fluid, characterful dances that stress this company’s classicism. Damien Johnson’s Orpheus grieves in steady, lyrical penchées. Sarah Kundi’s ardent Eurydice bourrées through the shades of the afterlife.

There’s a lively musical response in Tuckett’s dance for Orpheus and his friends, with flexed feet and nimble timing. His Furies whirl through, with filigree crowns and spiky, snatching hands and feet. As Hades, Jade Hale-Christofi stalks through his underworld kingdom with regal bearing and a swirling coat.

Tuckett’s pas de deux is weaker, though the dancers are assured in its athletic partnering. Orpheus is blindfolded, rather than turning away from Eurydice. That allows more dance variety, but blurs the pathos of a heroine whose husband refuses to look at her. Elsewhere, Tuckett has vivid dramatic touches. After killing Orpheus in a stylised death scene, the Furies wipe their mouths with naturalistic gusto.

The rest of the programme, features highlights from the past decade. Denzil Bailey’s A New Beginning is a friendly display piece. Martin Lawrance’s Pendulum has sleek lines and virtuoso steps, with Jazmon Ross powering through bold turns. Chantelle Gotobed stands out in Henri Oguike’s Da Gamba in the way she places her feet.

Ballet Black’s dancers rise to the rise to the challenges of their repertory, stepping out with greater fluency. The company’s energy and maturity is the best birthday present.