Ballet Black: Double Bill at the Barbican
by Selina Begum – 17 MARCH 2018
Ballet Black, founded by artistic director Cassa Pancho MBE, is the first and only dance company with Black and Asian ballet performers at its forefront. Returning to the Barbican with a double bill, tonight’s productions showcase some of the best talent working in UK ballet today.
The Suit, adapted from South African author Can Themba’s fable, is choreographed and directed by Cathy Marston. The story revolves around a young woman’s affair; her husband catches her in the act and punishes her with carrying the lover’s suit, symbolising her shame, pushing her to her utmost limits. Marston’s choreography is intricate and precise, the chorus achieving stunning pirouettes, pointes and beautiful allégro and allongé, elongated moves completed with tight finishes and finesse. Cira Robinson (Matilda) portrays the regretful wife with poignancy and heartfelt emotion, a challenge without words, whilst Joés Alves’s Philemon is realised with similar grace and passion. Fellow dancer Mthuthuzeli November presents Simon the lover with an elegance that is archetypal of classical ballet. Marston incorporates other dance styles such as the samba, which is done to riveting effect. The chorus transform themselves into household objects of a sink and mirror, adding an element of quirky surprise to the whole. Backing The Suit is music by acclaimed string group Kronos Quartet, whose compositions uphold the already stunning dance – urgent, achingly romantic and ultimately tragic – evoking the passion of the three protagonists in this touching abstract work.
Ballet Black’s signature piece, A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream is inspired by Shakespeare’s play. Arthur Pita, director and choreographer, was nominated for an Olivier Award for his dance, elaborately reworking the Bard’s comedy. Handel’s Sarabande plays while court dancers perform complex moves, before leads Alves and Robinson appear as King Oberon and Queen Titania. The mischievous Puck, (Isabela Coracy) puts on a brilliantly humorous representation, filling the stage with glitter dust, the dancers falling under her magic spells. It is warming to hear children in the audience giggling away, Coracy shining in her role, while Pita’s music choices work excellently, showing the cheekiness as well as themes of love and desire. Songs by artists Yma Sumac, Eartha Kitt, and Barbra Streisand fit well together with more contemporary works by Jeff Buckley and Antony and the Johnsons.
The surprising turn of gay and lesbian love reminds us of present-day sexual politics, as Helena (Sayaka Ichikawa) shakes off advances from Demetrius (November) and Lysander (Ebony Thomas), instead getting together with Hermia (Marie Astrid-Mence). Robinson and November’s Titania and Bottom the donkey scenes are hypnotic against Buckley’s Lilac Wine, and a curiously exciting sequence that stands out is November with a large Salvador Dalí mask, which is surreal and mesmerising, capturing the essence of this production.
Ballet Black’s performances are exemplary, truly magnificent and accomplished dance pieces. With enduring, graceful, and passionate dances, this company have proved once again that neither race nor colour has any place in the arts.