Ballet Black – Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds
Music: Philip Feeney (The Suit)
Choreographers: Cathy Marston / Arthur Pita
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh, 18th November 2018
Pioneering Ballet Black return with a thrilling double bill, which contains two very diverse pieces of modern ballet. Now in their 17th year, Ballet Black was founded under Cassa Pancho’s vision to create an inclusive company that represents artists of black and Asian descent.
The first of the narrative led pieces The Suit has been choreographed by the hugely talented Cathy Marston, renowned for her expressive and dramatic interpretations, most notably Northern Ballet’s recent Jane Eyre. Based on a South African fable by Can Themba, The Suit depicts a husband and wife based in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. After the husband, Philemon leaves for work, his wife Matilda seductively prepares herself for her lover and realising he has left his briefcase at home, Philemon returns home to discover his wife’s infidelity. Escaping via a window, the lover leaves his suit behind, which becomes a constant reminder of his presence within the marriage.
From the outset, José Alves as the betrayed husband gives a convincing and powerful performance, his athletic movements executed with conviction. Cira Robinson is the scorned Matilda, suitably embarrassed by her actions and unable to make eye contact with her husband when she dances with him. The suit becomes an extra figure in the marriage, following the couple around as they go about their daily routines, becoming a ghost as they sleep, an unwelcome guest at mealtimes.
The company assist with additional characters (an old lady Philemon helps to cross the road and other obstructions that hinder him on his way home) and also help depict tasks as Philemon washes and dresses for work, removing the need for material props to physically become the table where the offending briefcase is left. Amongst this minimal set, the neutral tones of the ensemble are in stark contrast to the blue suit worn by Philemon and dress of Matilda, which is set off by the ground-breaking bronze pointe shoes developed by Freed in conjunction with Ballet Black to reflect the skin tones of its artists.
Using stylised movements – the moment when Matilda is caught out is graphic enough to capture the horror and desperation experienced by her husband, yet tastefully depicted, the lucid narrative easy to follow, enhanced by a haunting and melancholic score.
In complete contrast, Arthur Pita’s A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves the company are capable of a repertoire of ballet styles. In a deviation from The Suit, Cira Robinson displays effortless extensions with a regality to her movements as Titania, one of Shakespeare’s most famous creations performing classical ballet in a traditional tutu. The music stops abruptly, Puck, a psychedelic leprechaun in a boy scout uniform appears and the dream begins. The chorus falls under Puck’s spell, accompanied by Ella Fitzgerald’s Let’s Do It and the snorting of some fairy dust.
Mischief-making, Puck pairs the characters off to much hilarity and confusion, allowing scope for pas de deux between male and female characters, female and female, male and male and female and donkey. There is much humour in Pita’s interpretation of this literary dream but the piece stays within the confines of ballet and is beautifully executed. The steps are classical but not incongruous within the setting and the humour works to great effect. By relying on the comedy pairings, the only aspect lacking within A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the corp de ballet. The strong ensemble that was used to great effect in the first piece is a noticeable loss in this second billing but nevertheless, it is captivating to watch. As in Pita’s signature work, the thread of it is unforeseeable with no indication of where he will go with it next.
The diversity of the two pieces demonstrate that ballet can be anything it wants to be: classical, powerful, seductive, edgy, contemporary or even laugh out loud funny and Ballet Black does them all justice. Who knew Shakespeare could be such incredible fun?