Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
By Zoe Anderson – Wednesday 16 April 2008
Ballet Black is a small but determined company. Worried by a shortage of non-white role models in ballet, founder Cassa Pancho has set up her own company of black and Asian classical dancers. This second season at the Linbury Studio Theatre has an ambitious programme of new choreography, with works from Shobana Jeyasingh and Richard Alston.
Of course, there are already black classical dancers – Carlos Acosta is Ballet Black’s patron – but Pancho’s company, founded in 2001, aims for grass roots, with a school and associate programmes for young dancers.
Jeyasingh’s Breach does most to show off the company. Using electronic and piano music by Mukul Patel and Stephen Montague, Jeyasingh gets the dancers moving crisply, with well-focused partnering and buoyant solo work.
Breach starts with a male duet, with Jazmon Voss and Jaime Rodney stalking around each other. Lifts turn into springy throws. The tone is neither romantic nor macho: these are athletic moves, firmly danced. The two women, Nandita Shankardass and Cira Robinson, swing their legs boldly into high extensions, or turn sharply.
Alston’s Walk Through a Storm is a classical piece, set to Beethoven piano music. Ryszard Andrzejewski dresses the men in tights and blouses, the women in Greek tunics. Alston uses academic steps: the basic positions, clean arabesques, corps de ballet lines. There are Sturm und Drang solos for the men, while women flutter on pointe, or return to fifth position.
Alston is inventive and fluent, but this comes out as a conventional exercise in nymphs-and-poets territory. This company doesn’t yet have the authority to make these steps shine.
Besides established choreographers Alston and Jeyasingh, this programme has two works by the young Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett. Indigo Children comes across as Twyla Tharp lite, an over-ambitious mix of fast moves and Philip Glass music. It’s a choreographic style that needs more attack and precision. Stephanie Williams, Ballet Black’s most stylish dancer, makes an impression in her solo.
Scarlett and his dancers are much happier with Somente, a Spanish-flavoured pas de deux set to recordings by guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela. Williams sidles flirtatiously around Darrius Gray, their duet going from couple dancing to bouncy classical jumps. The mood is relaxed and sunny, matched by David Plater’s glowing lighting design.