Author: Rob Chafer
Creative Commons Licence
Ballet Black, Triple Bill, The Quays Theatre, 19 June 2016
I am not sure whether the timing was deliberate but Ballet Black visited us on Manchester Day which celebrates "the creativity and diversity of Manchester ...... where communities can celebrate pride in our city and show what makes them feel uniquely Mancunian [and where] communities, artists and businesses can work together to create something truly special for Manchester" (see the Manchester Day Parade 2016 video on YouTube). Whether or not they were aware of yesterday's significance they could not have come on a better day for Ballet Black, like my beloved birthplace, is hugely creative, its repertoire could not be more diverse and, as I have said more than once, Ballet Black, like Manchester, is special (see Why Ballet Black is Special 20 May 2013 and Ballet Black is still special 7 Nov 2013).
The audience at The Quays sampled that diverse repertoire last night with Arthur Pita's Cristaux. Christopher Marney's To Begin, Begin and Christopher Hampson's Storyville. Two of Ballet Black's best loved works while I have been following them are Pita's A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream from their 2014 season and Marney's War Letters from 2013. Storyville is another favourite with audiences from the 2012 season which I saw the first time last night. Hampson together with Ernst Meisner was my choreographer of the year last year and Marney is my favourite living British choreographer. Pita is another firm favourite. Those chaps have never put a foot wrong in my eyes. I expected a super evening and that's exactly what I got.
Cristaux opened with Cira Robinson on pointe in a sparkly tutu gyrating to the tinkling rhythm of Drumming Part III by Steve Reich. She was joined by Mthuthuzeli November in blue and white. Though the steps seemed simple the pace was fast and frenetic and the effect quite mesmerizing. In the programme notes Pita said that he was inspired by the title to Balanchine's Le Palais de Cristal even though it is thought that the title was not intended to be descriptive. "I personally love the title Le Palais de Cristal", wrote Pita, "as it paints such a beautiful image." So he started thinking about crystals and how we can be mesmerized by their simplicity and beauty. "The reflective light that radiates from crystals is so magical and enchanting" he added. "I wanted to capture this feeling." It led him to "a place in which one is not dead or alive, asleep or awake, but somehow being led or seduced by a glimmering light." A mysterious but strangely exciting work.
Marney's To Begin, Begin was also mysterious but in a very different way. Sayaka Ichikawa appeared as though on stilts draped on an enormous canopy of blue. In the programme notes Marney explains:
"In To Begin, Begin, you see first a woman walking under a wave, a floating blue silk, waiting to be found by her soul-mate, who descends from above."Other dancers follow: Kanika Carr Jacob Wye, Isabela Coracy, Damien Johnson and Joshua Harriet. Marney continues that as the soul-mate finds the woman he witnesses other other relationships but his instincts lead him back to where he belongs. Marney says his inspiration for the piece came from watching an animation that had been made to some music by Dustin O'Halloran for an animation that he had written for the Sophie Coppola film Marie Antoinette. Like all Marney's work it was lyrical and moving.
Storyville was the story of Lulu White, a brothel keeper in the Storyville district of New Orleans, danced by Ichikawa and one of her girls called Nola (danced by Robinson), which appears to be an acronym for New Orleans Louisiana. The ballet charts the course of Nola's short unhappy life from her arrival as an innocent newcomer to the big city to her death a few years later. It is uncannily like Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire which Hampson's company tuned into a very striking ballet last year (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015). I can't help wondering whether there is any connection between Hampson's creation and his company's creation. Nola was danced by Robinson. On stage she seemed so fragile and so vulnerable. It was clear how this story would end. If only I could reach out and rescue her. Lulu's henchman, Mack, the epitome of evil. Lulu and Mack appeared in Nola's dreams or hallucinations as symbols of death. Carr and Coracy were bar girls and November and Wye as their guests. Nola's only hope of salvation was the sailor, Johnson, but not even he could divert her from her path to destruction. Not a pretty work at all but an absorbing and important one.
Before the show we learned from the stage manager that a case containing the programmes and some of the props was missing. I met Cira Robinson and asked what had gone missing. She mentioned her headdress and a chandelier from Cristaux which can be seen in these in Dave Morgan's photo on BalletcoForum. The missing items did not diminish the audience's enjoyment one little bit. However, it would be a great excuse to see the show again in Nottingham next Wednesday or in Leeds in the Autumn.
I do hope Ballet Black enjoyed their visit to Greater Manchester. It was great to see them in our area again and I do hope they come back soon. Perhaps even on Manchester Day again. Maybe they could even be part of it.