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Say It Loud/Black Sun Review

OCT 21, 2022


Cassa Pancho presents an exhilarating double bill celebrating 20 years of Ballet Black

“No two ballets are the same,” says a voice-over during this double bill from Ballet Black, marking the pioneering company’s 20th anniversary. That is truly the case here.

Say It Loud thrusts us back to Ballet Black’s inception, detailing the challenges it has faced in pursuit of an inclusive platform. There were inequalities then, and many remain now. But this is a performance of hope. The stage is bare and lit simply with white, blue and purple hues. The costumes are shades of brown and maroon to suit the dancers’ skin tones – costumes that did not exist when the company first began to perform. Now, with Afro hairstyles, the dancers can be seen, heard, represented and celebrated. José Alves and Cira Robinson’s pas de deux is especially breathtaking, while the closing number is an outpouring of infectious joy.

But in this first piece, the socio-political messaging is shallow and tired at times. Dancing to grime music in a hoody to signify Black London life is on-the-nose and uninspired, while a satirical approach to the white-dominated dance industry fails to drive any meaningful point home. Ballet Black has done the work, so to present liberation and empowerment principally through costume and hair feels reductive.

More forward-thinking answers are provided in the second half of the double bill, Black Sun, and it’s quite simple: be daring and challenging.

Gregory Maqoma’s choreography achieves this through a contemporary approach, influenced by his South African heritage. The repertoire is displayed with force and command. Under fragmented blue spotlights, Robinson shifts across the stage like a gliding spirit – elegant, graceful, yet perturbed in her use of arm and neck contractions.

This motif is soon picked up by the ensemble, as a series of warm washes and blue states, beautifully crafted by lighting designer David Plater, pass as if in the cycle of day and night. Body percussions are coupled with Zulu rhythms in footwork and trademark stomps. There’s a vastness within Maqoma’s choreography as if time suspends and suddenly bursts with energy.

The most arresting moment of all comes when Mthuthuzeli November sits down to play plastic and metal buckets and begins drumming a loud, resonant and infectious rhythm that takes the ensemble into beautifully crafted, trance-like choreography. Isabela Coracy is especially captivating, commanding in each line, extension and muscular tension.

Black Sun tells a story of drawing from ancestral connections to empower a journey of forward-facing self-discovery. Although narratively confusing at times, it comes into its own once all inhibitions are removed. This is a perfect allegory for Ballet Black’s trailblazing future: joyous, unafraid, breaking ballet norms and focusing on untapped ideas from the diaspora.