First Night: Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, London
Fluent, fluid and bringing colour to the ballet scene
By Zoe Anderson – Thursday 26 February 2009
Ballet Black was founded to provide role models. Director Cassa Pancho started the company in 2001, with the aim of making dancers of black and Asian origin more visible in ballet. Her six-strong troupe now works in collaboration with ROH2 at the Royal Opera House. The works are specially created, the performances fluent.
Martin Lawrance’s Pendulum is the most ambitious of these works. Starting in silence, it sets up images of weight and counterbalance. Cira Robinson and Hugo Côrtes lean against each other, let go; she tilts until she falls, trusting him to catch her. They go from confrontation to partnership. In one move, they fold themselves around each other, hopping through a shared turn.
Lawrance gives his dancers inventive steps and real challenges, exact demands in balance and timing. Robinson stretches into the moves, though Côrtes’s superhero physique could do with more softness. Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Music” gives them a tick-tock soundtrack to push against, though taped music would give all these performances more room to breathe.
Lawrance is best known for his work with Richard Alston’s troupe. Though Pancho uses a range of choreographers, she stresses ballet, which has the greatest shortage of black role models. The other works on this programme share a neoclassical style. There are clear lines, pointe work and academic steps, though the company avoids tutus or the whiz-bang of ballet’s fireworks.
Antonia Franceschi’s Kinderszenen suffers from busy music and design. Allen Shawn’s music nags insistently as the dancers flutter through their neoclassical steps. Carol Schilly’s projected artwork, abstract designs in clashing colours, makes a distracting backdrop.
Still, Franceschi gives her dancers lively moments. The three women scamper forwards, hips and shoulders swinging. Reaching the footlights, they exchange a mischievous glance before one scampers away. Chantelle Gotobed is particularly vivid, with flowing line through her shoulders and arms.
Most of Will Tuckett’s recent work has involved stories, elaborate production, often with words and props. For Ballet Black, he goes back to working with pure dance. Tuckett emphasises the contrasts, switching between the long lines of a women’s dance and some springy steps for the men.