Thursday, 3 November 2016

Ballet Black in Doncaster

Ballet Black, Triple Bill, CAST, Doncaster, 2 Nov 2016

Yesterday Ballet Black made its debut at the CAST Theatre in Doncaster with its triple bill of Cristaux, To Begin, Begin and Storyville. Considering that the performance was in direct competition with the live streaming of the Royal Ballet's Anastasia and that the centre of Doncaster resembled a ghost town last night as I tramped around pedestrian streets and plazas looking for the theatre, the company did very well to attract a fair sized crowd.

The programme was the same as the one I had seen in Leeds on the 15 Oct 2016 (see Never Better: Ballet Black in Leeds 16 Oct 2016) and at the Lowry on the 19 June 2016 (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 20 June 2016). Two of my friends wondered why I wanted to see the show a third time rather than the Royal Ballet screening. The answer is that there are some ballets that one can see time after time and still find something new while there are others for which one performance is quite enough even if that performance did take place in 1971 and the cast included Lynn Seymour, Antoinette Sibley and Svetlana Berisosva. Once I have made up my mind about a ballet, no amount of peer pressure on Facebook or BalletcoForum, marketing hype or rave reviews by journalists who are likely to have seen far fewer ballets than I have and who probably think a frappé is a type of coffee will change my mind.

So did I see anything new in Doncaster? Why, yes I did. On the previous occasions I had seen Arthur Pita's Cristaux my eyes had been on Cira Robinson rather than on Mthuthuzeli November. This time I concentrated on him and realized how much I had been missing. He begins the dance and it ends with him. My eyes have gravitated towards Robinson on the previous occasions because its title means Crystals and her tutu and headdress seem to sparkle with crystals. But November is splendid too in his costume of shiny blue which also has an odd sparkling stone or two. And it is he who leads the ballerina round the stage with his glissades and piqués.

Having seen To Begin, Begin in rehearsal at the Friends' event in July (see Ballet Black's First Friends' Event: A Rehearsal with Chris Marney 14 July 2016) where the audience discussed it at length with the choreographer I think I learned to love it more. This is a ballet that Sayaka Ichikawa makes her own. It is she who is hoisted into the air seemingly by the stream of silk and later enveloped by it as though she were the madonna. But Ichikawa was not the only dancer to shine. So too did her partner, Jacob Wye, as well as Damien Johnson, Jose Alves, Isabela Coracy and Marie-Astrid Mence who were the other couples in the piece.

There were some interesting cast changes in Christopher Hampson's Storyville which helped me to understand it better. Johnson, who had previously danced Nola's lover, was Mack in last night's show while Jacob Wye became her lover. Coracy danced Lulu which had previously been danced by Ichikawa. Those changes introduced a new dynamic into the ballet. Johnson dances with considerable authority which is why he is ideally suited for such roles as Oberon in Arthur Pita's Dream or the dad in Marney's Dogs Don't Do Ballet. Because he carries such authority it is a shock to see him playing a villain. He used that authority to spice that role with menace. By contrast, Wye seemed fresh-faced, sensitive, almost as vulnerable as Nola. How he must have suffered as that beautiful creature sank into alcoholic despair. Coracy was a great Lulu. She can play mean in a way that other dancers can't. My heart missed a beat as Lulu plunged a hat pin into the heart of Nola's rag doll. And Nola? Robinson was as beautiful as ever.

Yesterday was a bittersweet moment. It was the last time I would see beautiful Ballet Black this year and, in many ways, this tour was the company's best ever. When I booked my seat at the front of the stalls I had thought of throwing flowers London style at those wonderful dancers. My plan was defeated as no shops were open in the Frenchgate Centre yesterday evening. Probably just as well because the CAST is a fine theatre for dance and I would hate to be banned from it. As was said by a kind Doncastrian (is that right for a denizen of Doncaster?) who had tried to direct me to Sheffield in the belief that there were no theatres nearby when I asked for directions to the CAST: "We're in Donny, love". So the dancers will have to content themselves with verbal flowers - but they and their director and choreographers each deserved the biggest bouquet I could carry for their performances last night.

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