The Stage, 8th Nov 2021

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November 8th, 2021

Ballet Black kicks off its 20th-year celebrations with two new contemplative works. Many of the themes centre on tough questions and an anxious search for answers. Then or Now, choreographed by Will Tuckett, is the first to ask questions of itself and of us.

On a stripped stage – with lighting rigs still on show upstage – eight performers sit or hover around eight chairs, positioned in a semi-circle across stage. It feels like a communal gathering, the floor in between an open invitation to share. The work is episodic in nature; coupling solos, duos and trios, with poems by Adrienne Rich as guides to navigate stories of fractured communities, political responsibilities and individuality.

The dancers are up to the task, executing the demands of the classical ballet in technique and emotional performance. The gifted Cira Robinson is phenomenal, commanding attention during gentle solos and whip-fast duets with lifts full of air and flight. There does however seem to be an over-reliance on her as she makes many appearances over the 35 minutes, largely relegating the rest of the cast to supporting roles. Yet, a striking moment involves the entire troupe. Joy calms the growing anxiety through the message of sending love, helped by the break of classic forms into more playful child-like characterisation that draws laughter from the audience. Although there are clashes between poetry and performance at times, this was a perfect coming together.

Mthuthuzeli November carries the mantle of questioning after the interval. The Waiting Game follows his inner dialogue, as he experiences intrusive thoughts about the meaning of life, his purpose and choices he must make. Kitted in a grey and navy suit, suitcase in hand, he darts around the stage in a dynamic choreography that seems to slow as soon as it speeds up, beautifully matching the monologue’s frantic feeling. The cast too, in black-and-white clown-like costumes, are in their technical element.

The text stutters into indulgence at times but is saved by a shift in the bass-heavy, rhythmic score – with voices from the cast amplifying the intensity – and an iron focus on a door on the stage. This is the way out – towards answers, towards a calmer mind. The work culminates in a light-hearted showbiz number a-la Tina Turner. After all the uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, it seems the answers to his questions are to don a gold glitter suit, find that good feeling and fall into the joy of it.

Ballet Black’s new double skilfully captures the anxiety of our times and offers considered poems, precise choreography and compelling joy as antidote.