Review: Ballet Black (Triple Bill) at Nottingham Playhouse

four star

Nottingham Playhouse is the last venue in Ballet Black’s current tour and they present a winning dance formula in their thematically mixed Triple Bill programme tonight. Each dance work (Cristaux, To Begin, Begin and Storyville) is as diverse as the next in this most excellent show by Ballet Black’s company of only eight dancers.

winning dance formula

The company, under the artistic directorship of Cassa Pancho, proudly celebrate a fifteen year history this year and their commissions continue to be as bold and surprising as ever. At the Nottingham Playhouse this evening it is beautiful to see a rapt audience of mixed races and ages thrilled by the Ballet Black Triple Bill on stage. Each sumptuously executed dance piece is concluded with great applause and whoops of admiration from the audience.

Cristaux, exquisitely danced by Sayaka Ichikawa and Jacob Wye (music from Steve Reich) is a dream -like ballet suffusion of controlled yet chaotic limbs, bourrées and graciously floating lifts. The brilliant Swarkowski crystals in Robinson’s tutu dazzle the eyes and reactions of young male dancer Jacob Wye as he is attracted and repelled to her in the dance. Is he sleeping or awake or somewhere magical in between? Reich’s hypnotic drumming glockenspiel haunts and compels the dancers in and out of synch with its rhythms. Cristaux is the shortest piece of the programme but the complex and challenging choreography by Arthur Pita and the skill of the dancers stay in the mind long after the applause dies down. Costume design by Yann Seabra with support by Swarkowski.


To Begin, Begin choreographed by Christopher Marney – his sixth work for Ballet Black – is the most romantic of the three offerings. A huge blue silk sheet creatively utilised by the dance troupe suggests the sea within the dance work. Composer Dustin O’Halloran’s sweeping ‘musically rich’ vignettes suggest water-like fluidity both momentary and transient. The eight strong dance company including Kanika Carr,  Isabella Coracy, Mthuthuzeli November and Cira Robinson show their versatility and grace as the silk reveals and conceals the dancers like the tide sweeping in sucking all with it whilst commanding and dictating all matters of life, death and reunion. Costume design is by Rebecca Hayes.

The longest work ‘Storyville’ is saved until after the break. One might rightly suppose Ballet Black are saving the best until the last. This startling work choreographed by Christopher Hampson in a new extended version tells the story of an innocent young girl called Nola (Cira Robinson) who is swept into a nightmarish den of vice by Lulu White (Sayaka Ichikawa) and her dangerous man Mack (Joshua Harriete). Her partial saviour is Sailor (Damien Johnson). The whole piece is very theatrical with the main characters being introduced within the dance by story boards. The Kurt Weill music score is darkly rich, dangerous and seductively swelling, familiar yet deeply unsettling. The two French language songs used in Storyville are both from the mid 1930s (Je ne’taime pas and J’attends un navire) and beautifully conveyed by Romanian chanteuse Eniko Szilagyi. Both are used as theatrically sung devices to accentuate the dance drama and they work fantastically well. You feel the combination of Szilagyi’s soul wrenching – deeply gut felt – vocal interpretation and the realism of the dancer’s (Robinson) dance and movement intentions deliver 200%. Equally Ichikawa and Harriette, as the terrifically danced dance baddies come across as quite demonic at times.

As Ballet Black celebrate the end of their tour opening at the Barbican Theatre and no doubt winning many new fans along the tour route we leave the Nottingham Playhouse tonight on a wonderful ballet high.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe


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