Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ballet Black: "we don't talk about stuff, we just do it."

Cassa Pancho, Source: BBC Ballet Black opens up dance world 11 Oct 2011

Cassa Pancho, the founder and artistic director of Ballet Black has just posted a very thoughtful and interesting article to her company's Facebook page. It discusses a number of issues including race and ballet which she generally tries to avoid for several reasons, one of which is that Ballet Black does not talk about stuff it just does it. Rather than comment on the article I urge you to read it for yourself.

I should however like to develop one point that Cassa Pancho makes in her article which is that:
"the future lies in young children attending ballet classes around the country, who are not yet old enough to be judged as professionals." 
Now this is true of all dancers and not just those of African or South Asian heritage but Ballet Black helps to promote diversity in ballet in a rather special way. It runs a a junior ballet school in Shepherd's Bush "where children of all colours, creed, shape and gender are welcome" and an associate programme for "vocational dance school, professional dancers, retired dancers, in-between-jobs dancers and people who aren't pros but love ballet and have enough skill to keep up" open to people of every colour which "are taught by people who excel in their field AND are of black or Asian descent." By so doing the company is not just offering inspiration to kids of all classes and cultures through its principal dancers, it is creating an environment in which ballet is perceived less as something that is elitist and European and more as an art form that folk of all races, nationalities, religions, classes and cultures can own.

Ballet Black does great work which deserves the public's support and the public can support that work through the company's Just Giving page.

However, Ballet Black works in an advanced country. As there is no reason to suppose that talent is concentrated in any particular country or ethnic group there must be far more folk with talent that is never developed in countries or communities where there are no ballet schools or even companies than those who rise to the top in countries like the UK where such institutions exist.

One such dancer is Michaela DePrince of the Junior Company of the National Ballet of the Netherlands.  I have written about her in two articles "No Holds Barred" 4 Oct 2013 and Michaela DePrince 4 April 2013. The reason I have taken an interest in her - other than that I have been impressed by the videos of her that I have seen on YouTube - is that she comes from Sierra Leone and that is a country I know better than most as I was married for nearly 30 years to a Sierra Leonean. According to her video she was attracted to ballet by a photo of a dancer that she found in a magazine outside her orphanage and she was given the opportunity to study ballet only by the happenstance that she was adopted by folk from the USA where her talent could be identified and nurtured.

A charity that is working in another African country is Anno's Africa. I blogged about their work in Mathare, a particularly deprived area of Nairobi in "What can be achieved by a good teacher" on 3 March 2013. In that article I wrote:
"In many ways the kids in this class have had the worst possible start in life but in one very important respect they could not have had a better one. Look at the teacher, Mike Wamaya. He is good."
According to Anno Africa's blog the company now has another teacher from the United States who has danced professionally. I have Googled her and found a YouTube video that suggests she is very good.  Would it not be lovely if one of the students from Mathare presented him or herself to Cassa Pancho or indeed David Nixon, David Bintley or Christopher Hampson for audition one of these days!

Anno's Africa also has a Facebook page and a Just Giving page if you are feeling generous but please continue to support Ballet Black and all our other schools and companies as well.

1 comment:

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