Ballet Black The Suit and A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream Barbican Centre 16 March 2018, 20:00
After seeing extracts of Cathy Marston's The Suit and Arthur Pita's A Dream within Midsummer Night's Dream at Ballet Black's rehearsal studios on 25 Feb 2018, I wrote that I was confident that this year's tour would be Ballet Black's most successful yet (see Visiting Friends - Ballet Black at Home 7 March 2018). And so it has proved. I don't think I have ever seen them dance better. I don't think I have ever seen their audience more thrilled.
I was led to Ballet Black by Sarah Kundi whom I admired greatly when she danced in Leeds. When she left Ballet Black I was desolate. How could the company be the same without her? But it did and became even better (see Ballet Black is still special 7 Nov 2013). A few years later it lost another of my favourite dancers, Kanika Carr with her beautifully expressive face and laughing eyes. Again, I felt bereft but the company recruited beautiful new dancers and was stronger still. And then Damian Johnson, my male dancer of the year for 2017, returned to the United States. How could Ballet Black ever recover from his departure? For a moment I feared they couldn't (see Ballet Black post Johnson - Still a good performance but something was missing 19 Nov 2017). But it has for last night's performance was outstanding. Walking back to my hotel I realized that Ballet Black is like a living thing, greater than the sum of its parts and capable of regenerating itself even after it loses an important member.
Cathy Marston's The Suit is based on Can Themba's short story which was made into a powerful film in 2016 and stage play, Briefly it is about a husband who punishes his wife's infidelity by treating her lover's suit as though it were a living guest placing it at the table for meals and taking it outside for walks. The wife can endure only so much of this humiliation before she hangs herself on her lover's tie. Set in apartheid South Africa her oppression is compounded by the repression of the state. The austerity under which even highly educated Africans were obliged to live was represented by skeletal furniture and a percussive score. Particularly effective was the crumbling wall of sound that accompanied the mind shattering discovery of a stranger in the marital bed.
The wife, Matilda or Tilly, was danced by Cira Robinson. Perhaps her finest performance in any ballet and certainly the most dramatic. José Alves was Philemon her husband. Another stunning performance. Simon, the lover, the owner of the suit was Mthuthuzeli November. The rest of the company danced neighbours in Sophiatown. In the programme they are described as a "chorus". The use of a chorus is a technique that I noticed in Jane Eyre, the other Marston ballet that I have seen recently. The choreographer will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is the balletic equivalent to Greek drama. I find it very effective.
After that stage suicide - not the first I have seen in the last few months (Las Hermanas in Northern Ballet's MacMillan Celebration and English National Ballet's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort in Tamara Rojo at Last! Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and La Sylphide) we needed a bit of cheer and Arthur Pita provided it with A Dream within A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was the fifth time that I have seen that ballet and I love it. I love Isabela Coracy's playful Puck in boy scout uniform, Titania's infatuation with Bottom (November), the delicious girlishness of Hermia and Helena (Marie Astrid Mence and Sayaka Ichikawa) and Oberon's grunting with his butterfly net. Alves danced Oberon beautifully, with gravitas tempered with levity. I love the music and although I am still not sure how Salvador Dali fits into the story I love him and his moustache too. In this staging of the work November glides in with a Dali dead. I love the music, particularly the Yma Suma and the stately Handel with the girls in classical tutus at the beginning and the end.
I had originally planned to see the double bill tonight and had a ticket for the centre stalls but on learning of the talk I asked the theatre to exchange it for whatever it had for yesterday so that I could attend the discussion. Actually I did very well for I was in the centre of row B of the gallery commanding a great view of the stage with the most vocal and appreciative section of the crowd. I am so glad that I stayed for the talk because Cira Robinson was magnificent. She spoke about her art with passion. I have always admired her. Yesterday my respect increased 200%. But there was another treat. Arthur Pita was in the audience and he spoke how Shakespeare had inspired his Dream and his love for every piece of the score.
Finally, on the way out to Silk Street I spotted some of the dancers. If they read this review they would have known how much I loved last night's performance. But yesterday I could tell them in person and that was so much more satisfying.