Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ballet Black's Best Programme Ever

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Ballet Black (Triple Bill (Pendulum, Click! Ingoma) Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 16 Nov 2019 19:30

I suppose that a company that has danced at Glastonbury is pretty well made. There is not much that a blogger or even a critic can say that could be of much consequence.  It does not, however, hurt to repeat what I said to Cassa Pancho, the company's founder and artistic director, as I was leaving the auditorium.  This year's triple bill is the company's best programme ever.

Last Saturday's programme was the same as the one that I had described as "stunning" in March.  As I described the three works in some detail in my review pf that performance it is unnecessary for me to do so again.  However, there was one important difference between the show in March and Saturday's.  The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre is very much smaller and more intimate than The Barbican.  There is no gap or barrier between the front row and stage. When the seats are removed the theatre becomes a rehearsal studio. The audience is very close to the dancers. Having twice danced on the Stanley and Audrey Burton's stage, I can say that the dancers are very aware of the audience's proximity.

Mthuthzeli November took advantage of that intimacy in leading the audience to the coalface as his dancers slowly approached stage left with the house lights still lit.  As those house lights dimmed the beams of light from the lamps on the miners' helmets focused on the audience.  Trapped!  The danger, the darkness, the monotony, the pain of the mine was palpable.  Heightened, of course, by the cruelty of apartheid on the surface as well as under the ground.   Ingoma is an impressive work. November had already captured our hearts as the rakish wolf spinning his tail in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Little Red Riding Hood.  He has now captured our minds with his choreography.  Nobody will be surprised that he has been commissioned to create a new baller for the company's next season at The Barbican (see Beautiful Ballet Black's 2020 Season 8 Nov 2019).

Seeing Martin Lawrence's Pendulum for a second time, I noticed similarities and parallels with Ingoma, particularly with the score which resembled a heartbeat.  It was opened by two of the company's strong young dancers, Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence.  Mence spent a year with Phoenix Dance Theatre where she became an audience favourite. We still miss her.  Their pace and the complexity of their movements increase as the heartbeats quicken.  It is an almost mesmeric experience.

Click! by Scottish Ballet's Sophie Laplane is just pure joy.  Each of the dancers in different brightly coloured suits performs solos or duets to Snapping Fingers and other snappy music carefully arranged by Kenny Inglis.  All the company's dancers except Alexander Fadayiro were in the piece.  Cira Robinson, magnificent in red, Isabela Coracey resplendent in yellow et cetera et cetera.  In many ways, this work displays the essence of Ballet Black,  its exuberance, its energy and its diversity.

In my preview of the new season, I mentioned the recruitment of Fadayiro, his training and career with New Adventures. On Saturday I saw him for the first time. He appeared only in Ingoma as one of the miners and it was possible to see him properly only at the reverence but he performed well.  He appears to be very strong and cuts an impressive figure on stage. I look forward to seeing more of him in future.

I was very lucky to get a ticket for Saturday's show. I was #13 on the waiting list and held out very little hope of seeing the company again this year.   Their performances in Stratford and Leeds were sold out weeks ago.  That may be because of their appearance at Glastonbury - though I have to say that Saturday's crowd did not strike me as the sort of folk who go to Glasto - or it may be because they gave fewer performances this evening.  Either way, it is good to see that they have developed a very loyal following not just in London and with one ethnic group but among the whole population and across the nation.

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