Ballet Black at Linbury, Royal Opera House
Published at 12:00AM, April 11 2008
Ballet Black’s mission is to provide role models for young aspiring black and Asian dancers. It’s a small company – only six dancers – and a young one. And, at this stage in its life, a foreign one too – five of the six dancers are American. But all the choreography featured on this programme is British, and three of the four works are world premieres created specially for Ballet Black. It’s an impressive accomplishment for a troupe on such limited resources.
Liam Scarlett is at the beginning of his choreographic career. Indigo Children, a sextet set to Philip Glass, shows its antecedents in Christopher Wheeldon’s work, but doesn’t suffer too badly from the comparison. It’s written for ensemble and pairings, although the former, with its gentle lyrical wave, proves to be more interesting than the latter, in which duets feel more like cool-headed studies in connection rather than organic couplings. Scarlett’s second piece, Somente (not a premiere), is a duet drenched in red hot lighting and accompanied by Rodrigo y Gabriela’s version of Stairway to Heaven. Although Darrius Gray and Stephanie Williams gave it their all, Scarlett’s attempt at sultry is too forced.
Shobana Jeyasingh, meanwhile, delivers a bolt from the blue in the form of Breach. It’s a dance – not on pointe, the only one that isn’t – that offers speed and thrusting energy within a context of constantly zigzagging movement set against a full-on percussive score. Although you could see that the dancers need to grow into the technical demands of her slicing phrases, their enthusiasm for her defiant style was never in doubt.
Richard Alston hasn’t made a ballet for 25 years, so it’s fun to watch him strap pointe shoes on to his three female dancers (partnered by three men) and let rip. His contemporary writing tends towards the courtly in any event, so his house style slips easily on to these six dancers. The lyrical lilt to Walk Through a Storm offers much pleasure for the eyes, though the poor Beethoven recording is less than a pleasure for the ears.