Thursday, 3 July 2014

Best Ever - Ballet Black at the Nottingham Playhouse

Yesterday I was in Nottingham where I saw Ballet Black's Triple Bill at the Playhouse. This is the third time I have seen this programme the other times being 26 Feb 2014 in London ("Extra Special - Ballet Black at the Linbury "267Feb 2014") and 22 May 2014 in Southport ("What could be more thrilling than a Ride on a Roller Coaster? A performance by Ballet Black" 23 May 2014). Of the three performances this is the one I enjoyed the most though I cannot be sure whether that is because the company danced better than ever before or because I had seen the works before and knew what to look out for.

The programme began with Martin Lawrence's Limbo.  As in Southport the female role was danced by Isabela Coracy. In Southport I had admired Coracy's power and energy. This time I marvelled at her grace which was best exemplified in a lift towards the end where she runs towards stage right and is caught and raised by Jose Alves and Jacob Wye. She is a very versatile dancer as we saw later when she danced Puck in A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I had high expectations of her ever since I saw a scratchy video of her Diana and Actaeon from Brazil (see "Ballet Black's New Dancers"  24 Sept 2013) and I became a fan and these were more than realized when I saw her in The One Played Twice in Leeds (see "Ballet Black is still special" 7 Nov 2013). Coracy would not have shone had it not been for Alves and Wye who are both attractive dancers. Hindemith's score and Lawrence's choreography challenge audiences as much as dancers. There can be no smiles in Limbo as it is a place of lost souls and that is not always easy to sit through but they conducted us through it (albeit not comfortably) by the magnificence of their dancing.

For me the highlight of this programme is Christopher Marney's Two of a Kind.   You can see a photo of it here. I love Marney's work because of his enhanced sensitivity to music.  All choreographers have to be sensitive to music but Marney is exceptional in that regard. On the one occasion I met him I asked him whether he visualized the choreography from first hearing a work and he replied that he did.  His ballets are beautiful and they show off the dancers to best advantage. I have always enjoyed watching Cira Robinson and Kanika Carr (whom together with Damien Johnson and Christopher Renfutm I once had the pleasure of meeting) but last night they (together with Johnson and Renfurm) were particularly beautiful.  My eyes moistened throughout the work. It was over far too soon. There is only one other work that moves me in that way and that is Fokine's Dying Swan. It is amazing how Marney - still a young man - has mastered his art to such a high degree.

While sitting in the bar over my orange juice reflecting over what I had just seen someone called my name. It was Cassa Pancho, the company's founder and artistic director. She is a remarkable woman who has done great things with this company and I was flattered that she remembered me.  I blurted out my admiration for Coracy in Limbo, how much I was moved by Two of a Kind and my admiration for Ballet Black. She accepted those compliments with  considerable grace.  They were sincere.  I had seen some great ballet in the last few weeks - Northern Ballet's mixed programme, Birmingham's Fille and Ballet Cymru's Beauty and the Beast and I had loved them all - but yesterday's programme is the one I liked best. When I was in Glasgow to see Hansel and Gretel just before Christmas a very dear friend from St Andrews who knows me better than I know myself interrupted a stream of superlatives about Scottish Ballet with the observation "But your real favourite is Ballet Black." "No" I protested "I have no favourites. I love them all though perhaps Scottish Ballet has a special place in my affection because I have known and loved it the longest." Maybe my friend was right. Perhaps I do have a favourite in which case that favourite would be Ballet Black.

The last work of the programme was Arthur Pita's Dream.  That is another work I like a lot. There are lots of layers to this work and I think I understood the structure better. It begins and ends classically with the dancers in white, the women in tutus dancing to Handel. It is interrupted by Puck dressed as a scout scattering tinsel. Some of that tinsel had landed on Mel and me when we were in Southport and Mel tweeted how she had danced particularly well after putting some of it in her pointe shoes. Anyway Puck holds a flag of soft fabric through which the dancers pass and they are transported to a tropical wonderland (let's pretend it is Sierra Leone which I know) with storms, exquisite bird song and exotic music. It is there that Carr performs a remarkable samba on pointe, where Robinson falls in love with Alves in his ass's ears, Johnson roars around the stage with a butterfly net, Ichikawa and Carr perform a delightful duet after one is spurned and the other is chased by Alves and Wye and Christopher Renfrum appears as Salvador Dali and receives half a moustache from Oberon. At the end of the work the dancers pass through Puck's flag again and are restored to Handel, sashes, tutus and pointe shoes.

There is a chance to see this programme one more time in Leeds on 6 and 7 Nov at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (the stage upon which I danced last Saturday). The company is moving on to new works including its first children's ballet "Dogs Don't Do Ballet" which opens in Harlow on 11 Oct 2014. After watching me perform my grandson manqué, Vlad the Lad, believes that anything (including a dog) can dance but he did ask what Biff, who is a boy dog, was doing in a tutu in Anna Kemp's story which I couldn't answer. According to Cassa all will be revealed on opening night.


  1. What a beautiful review of a beautiful company and programme. I'm glad you found new layers in Arthur Pita's 'Dream', from my first viewing it feels like something you can watch multiple times and still find something new in it. And yes, Coracy's Puck glitter is some very powerful stuff :)

  2. And I am sure I shall all see something new when I see the ballet a fourth time. Watching Ballet Black's triple mill is like an emotional workout. Every sentiment is exercised. I was close to tears in the Marney and laughing like a drain in the Pita.