|Millennium Square, Leeds|
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Ballet Black, Mixed Bill, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 20 Nov 2015
Ballet Black always do well in Leeds for the reasons I stated in Ballet Black at Home in Leeds 7 Nov 2014. Last night was no exception. They returned with Sayaka Ichikawa, one of their most respected and best loved senior artists after a year's absence, and two outstanding young dancers, Mthuthuzeli November and Joshua Harriette. In a company the size of Ballet Black they are a substantial addition. Judging by their performance yesterday, a good one.
The programme that Ballet Black brought back to Leeds was the same as the one that they had launched at the Linbury (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015) and performed in Nottingham (see Exactly My Cup of Tea 27 June 2015). This season in Leeds is likely to be their last performance of those works in the United Kingdom for some time though they are dancing them in Germany on 26 Nov 2015. When we see them again at the Barbican on 18 and 19 March 2016 they will have a new programme of works by Christopher Hampson, Christopher Marney and Arthur Pita.
The evening opened with To Fetch a Pail of Water? by Kit Holder danced by Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye. This is a work that can be sweet and innocent or dark and slightly menacing depending entirely on the cast. Yesterday it was danced sweetly by Carr and Wye. The near capacity crowd loved it as did I. Because I changed my ticket from Saturday to Friday at the last minute in order to see Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights in Bradford I was seated towards the top of the auditorium. That turned out to be an advantage because I caught detail such as the rustling of clothes that I had missed in London and Nottingham when I was close to the stage. The significance of the question mark clicked at last. It is a shame that I won't see the work for a while now that I understand it a little bit better.
Depouillement was our first opportunity to welcome back Ichikawa who was as delightful as ever and see November and Harriette for the first time. Actually I had seen November in May when Ballet Central visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre and he had impressed me then (see Dazzled 3 May 2015). He did so again last night from his very first jump. This is a fine work by Will Tuckett and it was danced exquisitely by Damien Johnson, Cira Robinson and Isabela Coracey as well as by Ichikawa, Harriette and November.
Even though I have read and re-read Yeats's short poem since I first saw Mark Bruce's Second Coming in February and have now seen it three times I am still no nearer to understanding it. I think the work has more to do with voodoo and animism than the poem. There are two ritual stabbings with a dagger by the ruler danced by Johnson. The dancers are forced to pass through a hoop - literally kicked through by Carr in one case. In her angel costume with tiny wings Carr can do creepy as well as sweet when she so wishes. The hoop seems to be the boundary between reality and some fantasy work. On the other side there is some gorgeous dancing to Shostakovich and and a delightful duet by Johnson and Robinson. Yeats writes of
"A shape with lion body and the head of a man,In the ballet the shape has a lion's head and the body of a man and that's the creepiest bit if all. Maybe the ballet is not meant to be understood any more than the poem or even the book of Revelation from which it was inspired. Perhaps we should just relish the beautiful dancing, choreography, the haunting music and Dorothee Brodruck's rich designs.
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds."
The stage darkened and the auditorium erupted with applause. Not just polite ballet applause with the occasional "bravo" or "brava" but ululations and stamping. From the back of the theatre it was deafening. I feared for a moment that the seating would collapse from the vibrations. Leeds loves Ballet Black as Sharon Watson acknowledged in the Q & A that followed the performance when she thanked the company for performing in our city. What I did not realize until that Q & A was that Cassa Pancho had drawn inspiration from our own Phoenix Dance Theatre. Ballet Black and Phoenix have much in common. Yet another reason why Leeds loves Ballet Black.