Ballet Black – The King’s Theatre

Founder and Artistic Director – Cassa Pancho

Choreography by Martin Lawrence, Sophie Laplane and Mthuthuzeli November

Design Work by Yann Seabra and Peter Todd

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Marking their 18th season in March, Ballet Black bring their world premiere to the UK. Now in Scotland, Edinburgh is honoured to play host to contemporary ballet performers with mold-breaking movement married with tradition. A trio of pieces, each as staggeringly impressive as the last, serve to showcase the immeasurable talents of this troupe. From the combative piece Pendulum to the glorious colours in Click, closing with the downright hauntingly gorgeous Ingoma.

Dance conjures emotion. Emotion fuels dance. The two are inseparable in productions of movement. Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrence, finds dancers Sayaka Ichikawa & Mthuthuzeki November gradually succumbing to a closeness which cuts through aggressive competition. There’s no accompanying score to start with. It’s jarring, but its intent is clear – focus on the movement and the athleticism of each muscular movement. These dancers create their own rhythm within one another, synchronising without a rhythm, only eachother and their control to rely on.

Moving from a vast-scape of pale light, Click could not be more different, certainly standing as the most energetically colourful of the trio. It is a piece which openly blends multiple dance forms, highly creative in its designs by Yann Seabra, and explores the multitude of ways we can interpret such a simple action. To click, can mean to hurry, to silence or of course, in time to the beat. Our five performers are led by Isabela Coracy, clad in a shade of yellow only she could pull off. Contrasting Pendulum, the troupe is dressed in vivid tones. They explode in vibrancy as the spotlights strike off these colours. Beginning with a group piece set to the medley of scores, we break off into separate performances. Coracy’s is exhilarating, disgustingly cooler than anything most of the room will ever accomplish. Jose Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet captures the intensity of movement. Set to a more serious tone by To Rococo Rot’s composition, the colours shift from light-hearted and fun to dark passion. In a blitz, we return to the spectrum, the clicks growing faster and flurries of feet flash amidst the fusing rainbow of lights – making for a terrific end to the first half.

It is Ingoma, however, which sets Ballet Black apart from the rest. We move from the straight medium of dance to one of pure storytelling. Choreographed by November, danseur of the first piece, it depicts the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1946. The scene is laid before us, the gravel and coals spilled onto the stage as the company don hard hats and pickaxes. There is no rush with Ingoma, time is taken to build atmosphere, leading to a dramatic, drawn out payoff of sublime emotional release.

The sun beating on their backs, the Isicathulo techniques of heavy stomps, synchronise perfectly with the foreboding score. Ingoma tells the story, not only of a young miner who perishes but of those left behind, arguably the real point of the narrative. In terms of dance technique, this is human. The tie between pathos and movement is gorgeous. We see every muscle, flex and sharp pinpoint movement, as Ebony Thomas is illuminated by the gleam of the hardhats, before the dusty air envelopes him.

On occasion, dancers engage en pointe, a firm reminder of the tribute to the artforms core movements. Ichikawa’s performance transcends this beauty, adding the desperation of loss. The more she dances, the more physically exhausting the performance feels. Ballet usually makes us see the performers as neigh superhuman, holding poses and leaping in ways we cannot. Ichikawa strips this back, collapsing in the moment, she is lifted. For just like the workers, exhaustion is no excuse to stop. So she dances. Dances for the pain and for those still suffering on the sidelines.

Ballet, traditionally, has a glossy aesthetic. Primped and polished until it glows with pride. This contributes quite heavily to its image as a bourgeois artform, pushing its perceived accessibility away. Ballet Black, however, is raw movement of the utmost standard. Its polish comes from capable dancers; its aesthetic shifts from natural dusk to a blaze of tone in what is a remarkable evening, redefining the rules of ballet.

Images & Production Information: https://balletblack.co.uk/

Spring! @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
Scottish Ballet

Dextera Choreographer: Sophie Laplane

Dextera Composer: W.A. Mozart

Elite Syncopations Choreographer: Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Elite Syncopations Music: Scott Joplin & others

How precisely does one celebrate fifty years? By not simply paying tribute to your rich tradition of ballet but by evolving, showcasing how far as a company you have come. What’s more, you celebrate by showing us what can be done with another fifty – I only hope I kick around long enough to catch it. For now, though, Scottish Ballet’s Spring sets up what is likely to be a stellar anniversary.

Beauty personified is blown across the theatre in the mesmeric movements and colours of Sophie Laplane’s Dextera, our first piece. It’s a union fit for a celebration – Mozart’s various symphonies give the Orchestra a chance to innovate, re-imagine and fuse the classic with the freshness of the troupe’s expertise. Partnered with the maestro’s music, a unique choreography sees traditional ballet stirred in with abstract expression. It tackles a trend in the ballet circle, gender is explored throughout Dextera – not only the obvious but woven into the subtle, sublime and (one day) commonplace.

Upon high, a danseur is ‘gifted’ a single red glove, though not just any red. The glove is that shade which strikes a cauldron of intense emotions. It’s a powerful tone, controlling, dangerous and yet alluring. Upon fitting, the rapid movements involved are sharp, pointed and you can feel the momentum carried into the toes. These controlling hands carry the danseuses onto the stage. Like puppets, they are poised precisely as their male counterparts instruct. We’re guided through the more traditional stances of which most will be familiar, such as the plié but also stretched into the surreal everyday objects. When suddenly – another danseur is hoisted onto the stage in a similar manner to the women. Outfitted the same, he is manoeuvred no differently to the rest of the troupe.

As Laplane’s Dextera unfolds, the symbolism of control begins to birth a hope of equality of blindness in the casting. For just as the danseur in the role of the women carries himself strikingly, so too do any of the danseuses in reverse. Almost as if these positions are achievable irrespective of gender? As they obtain the red gloves themselves, through fooling, flirting or plucking – the comedic intensity grows. An organic kaleidoscope of limbs twisting, convulsing and as dance itself, always moving.

By the triumphant end, a shower of colours erupts over a costume piece by Elin Steele, whose creation deserves merit. Just as its musical partner Mozart, the tonal changes from bleak darkness to the glimmers of hope this is a piece which Scottish Ballet are no doubt proud to launch their 50th year with.

Choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, our second piece – Elite Syncopations continues with sparkling characterization, vivid costumes, all strung together with the carnival ragtime band. Older in conception, its bold use of colours amidst jazz styled 1920s motif places it alongside Dextera marvellously.

Humour as a ballet tool is nothing new. There is, however, such a delicious Scottish twang that it could be pulled off by none other than Scottish Ballet themselves. As the chaos of Dextera unfolds, the Benny Hill chases and exits are only eclipsed by Elite Syncopations segment ‘Tall and Short’. Performed by Eve Mutso and Jamiel Laurence you will find yourself in just as much awe as you will in stitches. Crafted in a silent era fashion, the comedic dance sees play with balance, height and expectations.

Scottish Ballet’s Spring proves that they stand on a world stage of ballet. We knew this. What they prove is their innovation. Their ability to sustain freshness, all the while providing an exceptional production is what sets them apart.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/scottish-ballet-spring-festival-theatre-edinburgh/