Thursday, 27 February 2014

Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury 26 Feb 2014

Salvador Dali - danced by Christopher
 in Arthur Pita's "Dream within
A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Source Wikipedia

I have already said that Ballet Black are special (see "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013 and "Ballet Black is still special" 7 Nov 2013). Well yesterday at the Linbury they were extra special.  They presented three new works:
  • Limbo by Martin Lawrence
  • Two of a Kind by Christopher Marney, and
  • A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Pita.
Each of those works was exquisite and drew out a different quality in the company: Limbo its virtuosity, Two of a Kind its fluency and elegance and A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream its theatricality and sense of fun. I had listed the company's performances at Bernie Grant and the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre as highlights of last year (see Anniversary Post 25 Feb 2014). Last night's performance was even better than those shows.

Writing in the programme Lawrence explained that Limbo is "a speculative idea about the afterlife of a human being dying in 'original sin' without being assigned to the hell of the damned." He explained that this work was "not a narrative but a deep feeling of striving for one's life ... surviving it or leaving this world for another.

Dedicating this work to the memory of his late grandmother, Annie Lawrence, the choreographer added:
"The notion of death and whether there is life after death played a big part in the process of making this piece. When someone is dying you do not want them to go. You hope that they will be around forever."
And then he speculated
"If someone is in Limbo can they also be brought back to life?"
With costumes designed by Rebecca Hayes and lighting by David Plater the dancers,  Jose Alves, Jacob Wye and Cira Robinson, gave the impression of flickering embers. Obviously it was not intended to be comfortable to watch. Similarly Hindemith's Sonata for Solo Voila (1922) Op 25 No 1 was not supposed to be easy to listen to.  The interaction between the dancers was combative.  Each of them was grim faced. But the choreography gave each dancer an opportunity to display his or her virtuosity. Altogether, a very moving and compelling work.

The mood of Two of a Kind was very different. In place of combat there was love. Flowing and lyrical this work was a joy to watch. At various points I was reminded of War Letters by the same choreographer that I loved so much last year.  This recollection was bolstered by the costumes that had been designed by Yukiko Tsukamoto - simple almost military uniforms for the men (Damien Johnson and Christopher Renfurn) and gorgeous full skirted dresses in vivid fabrics for the women (Kanika Carr and Sayaka Ichikawa). Combining Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence String Sextet in D minor and Adagio cantabile e con moto in D major with Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess Chris Marney chose a delightful score. Having been scoured emotionally by the first work we were soothed by the balm of the second.  As the curtain fell the audience departed for the bar happy and chattering.

There must be something about Midsummer Night's Dream that brings out the best in a choreographer. Something special happened in Leeds on the 14 Sept 2013 ("Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013) and something of the same kind happened in The Linbury last night.

The ballet starts with three couples - Titania and Oberon (Robinson and Johnson), Demetrius and Helena (Alves and Ichikawa) and Lysander and Hermia (Wye and Carr) - dancing to Handel. The women are in classical tutus Titania and Obseron wearing blue sashes to show their status with a crown for Titania. Suddenly the music changes to Malambo and everyone is in dappled light. In comes Puck (Isabela Coracy) dressed as a boy scout scattering star dust first on the dancers and then on the first 4 rows of the audience including me. Coracy's casting as Puck was a surprise and a delight.  A surprise because she is a powerful athletic dancer (see "Ballet Black's New Dancers" 24 Sept 2013). To see Coracy as a talented character artist was something as a revelation.

Although Pita had written in the programme that his ballet was not at all faithful to Shakspeare he seemed to follow the story far more closely than Nixon did in his Dream.  Spells are cast over the lovers, Titania and Bottom and there is a charming pas de deux of Robinson and Alves with ass's ears to the sound of Streisland's Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered.  The only bit of the ballet that I could not quite fathom was the role of Salvador Dali danced by Renfurn. Nevertheless if Nixon can have the Flying Scotsman in his ballet Pita was at least as entitled to have Dali in his.  After a downpour in a tropical rain forest and a variety of songs the score reverted to Handel and the first scene resumed.

Visual designs were by Jean-Marc Puissant and sound designs by Andrew Holdsworth and Frank Moon. Lighting was provided again by David Plater.  If anyone wants an impression of the ballet John Ross has exhibited some lovely photos on his website.

The entire season at the Linbury has been sold out for some time but Ballet Black are taking this new programme on tour (see "Ballet Black's Tour" 22 Fb 2014).  If you live anywhere near Cambridge, Guildford, Exeter, Southport or Nottingham you really should see them.

Further Reading

17 Feb 2015  "Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet" - a review of the 2015 mixed bill
10 Feb 2015  John  Ross Ballet Black: triple bill, London, February 2015 BalletcoForum
7 Nov 2014  "Ballet Black at Home in Leeds"
12 Oct 2014  "Woof"
17 Sept 2014 "My T-shirt says it all"
3 July 2914 "Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse"
9 March 2014 "David Lister's Post on Ballet Black"
23 May 2014 "What could be more thrilling than a Ride on a Roller Coaster? A performance by Ballet Black!"
7 March 2014 David Lister "Ballet Black is a wonderful company. But it's a shame on the arts that it still exists" Independent Voices
2 March 2014   Luke Jennings  "Ballet Black review – old-school charm, new-age wit" Guardian
27 Feb 2014  Zoe Anderson  "Ballet Black, A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream, dance review" Independent

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