Rachel Alcock-Hodgson reviews the vibrant performance as it returns to the Northcott
[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap] AM by no means a ballet, or even dance, afi cionado, so had little idea of what to expect from Ballet Black. By chance, I had seen Ballet Revolución – a Cuban dance group who combine ballet and contemporary dance – at Latitude festival over the summer. I was completely drawn in, mesmerised by the explosive energy of those dancers, and the beautiful and impressive choreography. So, I was excited to see another dance group who inject a contemporary feel into ballet. The fi rst thing to say about Ballet Black is that, as their name suggests, they are a company of black and Asian dancers. In itself this is progressive.
As they state on their website, “We aim to bring ballet to a more culturally diverse audience… Our ultimate goal is to see a fundamental change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies.” The triple bill opens with a story of young love. A plaid-skirted girl twirls on pointe to the tune of what sounds like a music box. She is joined by her lover. There is sex and all is well, but it gets more complex. The episodes of their relationship are separated by darker interludes accompanied by electronic music, in comparison to the light warmth of the surrounding story. Apparently asking why Jack and Jill went up the hill in the first place, To Fetch a Pail of Water?, choreographed by Kit Holder, is a pleasingly approachable way to start. The next piece, Depouillement, created by Will Tuckett, is signifi cantly more abstract. It is set to Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, one of those pieces that everyone recognises, but has new light shed on it in the context of this dance, the dancers’ bodies weaving into the music. The simple costumes also do a fantastic job. The male dancers wear white tops and the women black dresses.
This is reversed for the soloists. The distinction creates reams of possible significances and aesthetic patterns. Though the lack of story in some ways is harder for a newbie, the beauty of execution and the fl ow of movement more than makes up for that. The final, longer dance is most decidedly narrative. It is also whackier than anything that comes before. In the words of one reviewer, Mark Bruce’s Second Coming “derails you in a nicely crazy way”. The piece draws on a variety of sources: the title refers to a William Butler Yeats poem; elements of Grimm’s fairy tales cropping up, and also some Jesus-like resurrection imagery sneaking in. But the dancers carry it off . The ruler/ master of ceremonies and his sidekick angel are magnetic. Despite her hoop breaking mid-hula in the performance (perhaps a sign of cuts to arts funding), Kanika Carr’s sassy boldness is palpable. The love story between the ruler’s son and a serpent woman is also gripping, revealing the tensions between the father and son and the pull of earthly love. This ballet is completely ‘relatable’. The story-telling is fantastic and the dancers are entrancing. If Ballet Black is anything to go by, this is an art form I definitely want to see more of.