The Stage, 2nd March 2009

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Ballet Black
Published Monday 2 March 2009 at 10:25 by William McEvoy

Founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho to provide role models for young black and Asian dancers, Ballet Black here presents four pieces that range from the erotic and emotional to the more conceptual. There’s a tension between toughness and elegance in the work which is always technically impressive but sometimes at the cost of individual expressiveness.

Liam Scarlett’s Hinterland captures the jabbing anxieties of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio no. 2, the dancers showing great control as they move between solos and duets. If at times the choreography is too straightforwardly illustrative of the music’s neurotic, needling quality, this is offset by its visual variation and formal ambition.

Pendulum, an intense duet by Martin Lawrence, is dominated by the grinding, amplified heartbeat of Steve Reich’s music. It starts in silence, or rather with just the sound of the dancers’ breathing and the collision of their limbs. Performed on this occasion by Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss, it contains moments of conflict and friction between a couple engaged in an erotic dance of death. They circle and embrace each other ferociously.

Antonia Franceschi’s Kinderszenen is the lightest of the four pieces. Flashes of humour and moments of small-scale, detailed movement give this the most distinctive choreography, but it feels bitty, possibly as a result of Allen Shawn’s stylistically hybrid music.

The final piece, Depouillement, by Will Tuckett, is performed to Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, and is both muscular and graceful. In black and white costumes, there’s a photographic aesthetic at play here that experiments with shadow and light. The attempt to avoid the unnecessary that distinguishes Ravel’s music also informs the sometimes stark choreography.