The Reviews Hub, 10th March 2023

View original article website link

‘Together the two pieces make for a vibrant, exhilarating experience of dance.’

Ballet Black: Pioneers


By Jane Darcy
Fri 10 Mar 2023

Cassa Pancho’s extraordinary Ballet Black perform Pioneers, a programme of two powerfully complementary pieces which in very different ways respond to vital questions of what it is to live in the world as it is now, both as individuals and as political beings.

William Tuckett’s Then or Now uses extracts from poet Adrienne Rich’s Dark Fields of the Republic, not just as a starting point, but as a verbal score with which the dancers interacts. ‘When does a life bend towards freed? grasp its direction’ asks Rich. Into this is woven the music devised by Daniel Pioro, Then or Now – variations on a theme by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biberwhich uses von Biber’s poignant seventeenth-century Passacaglia for solo violin. Responding to this evocative soundscape, the eight dancers capture the shifting moods of Rich’s questions and the haunting quality of the Passacaglia in elegant, ever-changing combinations. They are glorious to watch, their fluidity as a troupe wordlessly illustrating Rich’s exploration of the human need to respond to one another.

The second piece, commissioned by the Barbican, is Mthuthuzeli November’s Nina: By Whatever Means, a vibrant recreation of the life of Nina Simone. It begins with Simone’s appearance at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival and then moves back in time. For much of her early life, Eunice Waymon dreamed of becoming the world’s first Black female classical pianist: Nina Simone is the name she adopted to prevent her Methodist mother discovering she was playing the ‘devil’s music’ in jazz clubs.

There is an enchanting scene when Sienne Adotey as the child Eunice sits alert at the piano, rapidly learning. Isabela Coracy is the grown Eunice, leading the congregation in joyful gospel songs. Coracy is superb as she traces Simone’s development into the adult singer. A simple set and unobtrusive background sound suggest the world of clubs and bars in Philadelphia and New York in which she came to fame.

Tension arrives in the form of her second husband who manages her business affairs but who grows increasing jealous of her popularity with her fans. There are two exceptional scenes in their apartment. In the first the couple’s deep attraction to one another is presented in a sensual dance. The mood changes, however, as the husband, powerfully performed by Alexander Fadayiro, suspiciously searches for clues to feed his corrosive jealousy. Their extended row is brilliantly represented in movements which mirror his terrifying violence and Nina Simone’s defiant resistance. This leads on to the compelling final scenes showing Simone’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. Coracy is mesmerising throughout, a magnetic figure of power and sinuous grace.

Together the two pieces make for a vibrant, exhilarating experience of dance.