Review: Ballet Black (touring 2018) Nottingham Playhouse

Ballet Black present a programme of two contrasting works in their latest tour, which demonstrates the depth and breadth of the talent within the company. So accomplished and confident are they at the technical performance of the ballet, that the dance is almost subsumed by the story telling.

The first , The Suit, is a new piece, choreographed by Cathy Marston, designed by Jane Heather and with Dramaturg by Edward Kemp. It is beautifully lyrical in it’s storytelling, an everyday tale of love, betrayal, guilt and consequence. Cira Robinson takes the lead as Matilda, and Jose Alves plays Philemon, her husband, with an opening scene of domesticity. Whilst Philemon goes to work and demonstrates his gentle nature in small acts of kindness, Matilda welcomes her lover to their house.

The distinction between the ‘outside world’ of the everyday and the intensity of the lovers is reinforced through contrasting motion. The chorus’ movements are methodical, repetitive, representing the commonplace, whilst the lovers are slow and stylised in their coupling. Inevitably, the adulterers are discovered and so unfolds the real story – of betrayal and guilt and fallout. Robinson encapsulates the complexity of the character in her dance. One moment, warm and attentive to her husband, the next obsessed with her lover, then the devastation of discovery and guilt. It is a powerful portrayal but with a wonderful lightness of touch. Alves provides a statuesque performance of the wronged husband, devastated; yearning for what was, powerful and pitiable. ‘The Suit’ itself is very cleverly used to represent the lover and his presence, even when absent.

The mood is enhanced with the 1950s styling of costumes, flowing and simply shaped, the chorus in caramel tones, distinct from the grey/blue tones of the leads. The music, from a wide variety of 20th Century composers, moves with the narrative, sometimes folky with pace and bounce, building and releasing tension. It’s a really visually beautiful and affecting piece.

The second piece ‘ A Dream ..’ creates the illusion of something more traditional – with an opening scene of tutus and traditional balletic poses. When this is rudely interrupted by Puck as a sort of psychedelic Boy Scout sprinkling glitter, it’s clear this is no ordinary interpretation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Causing mischief and mayhem, Puck initiates strange new couplings. Lysander and Demetrius desperately compete to impress Helena, creating a comedic ‘dance off’ supported by some tongue in cheek musical numbers from Cole Porter. Titania falls for Bottom, in the form of an ass, and the whole fairy glade becomes a place of confusion and illusion. This is a light hearted piece, and gives the dancers an opportunity to enjoy the fantasy, but how wonderfully they add to the magic of the forest with their exquisite expression and forms. The lighting creates a darkly dappled forest and a few rippling yards of coloured silk add a lovely sinuous, dream-like quality to the presentation of the whole piece.

Isabel Coracy as Puck is masterly in her control of her subjects and grounded and earthy in her movements, in contrast to the ethereal quality of the humans in their dream-like state.

Ballet Black is a professional ballet company for international dancers of black and Asian descent. They aim to bring ballet to a more culturally diverse audience and looking at tonight’s multicultural attendees, they are succeeding in that aim. The contrast in mood and delivery of these two pieces demonstrates a wonderful capacity for communicating through dance and that is a language that is uniquely powerful and knows no bounds.

Ballet Black was at Nottingham Playhouse for one night only. The tour continues throughout England and Scotland during 2018.

Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.

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