Without a doubt, one of my best ever ballet discoveries has been the existence of Ballet Black and, every time I see them, I find myself incredibly grateful that Cassa Pancho (MBE no less, who you should also go and follow on Twittaz immediatel – @BalletBlack – because she’s awesome) had a kick ass idea back in 2001 and decided never to let go of it. If you want to see a small company who can kick your emotions around like a football for a couple of hours and then leave them utterly shredded, you could do far worse than checking out Ballet Black. In fact, I shouldn’t even be suggesting it, I should be enforcing (IN CAPSLOCK) you to all go and see them AT ONCE, IMMEDIATELY. Getting to see them in the Linbury on an annual basis has truly become one of the highlights of my ballet year. So last night I trotted off from work for a quick swim (not my brightest plan, impinged tendon in shoulder = mega ouchy) and the dashed back to the Opera House to cosy up (well as much as you can in a sold out theatre!) for an evening with Ballet Black. HURRAH.
There were four pieces on offer on the bill – three short plotless, one longer with plot. It’s a good way to showcase the entire company and to prove that they can more than handle a wide variety of choreography. In my not so terribly humble opinion, the bill provided three sure fire winners and one that left me a little nonplussed, which is a 75% success rate and I’m more than pleased with that.
I found myself nonplussed by the opening piece, Egal by Robert Binet. Conceptually and choreographically it was interesting but, and it’s kind of a big but I guess, the music grated on me and I couldn’t quite get myself past that at times. On the plus side, it was a great reminder about how (a) fierce (b) beautiful and (c) generally all kinds of awesome Cira Robinson is. Seriously, I think I’d quite like to be her when I grow up. And it was a good introduction to first year apprentice Jacob Wye who is super talented.
Ludovic Ondiviela’s Dopamine (you make my levels go silly) on the other hand was a fire cracker of a piece that utterly blew me away. I’ve seen some of Ondiviela’s work before (he’s a first artist with the Royal Ballet and he’s had pieces in Draft Works) and I’ve often struggled to reconcile myself with his work – not really quite sure I’ve been hearing his choreographic voice. That all changed with Dopamine: an electrically charged, frenetic piece of the joys of falling in love – those tingles, those sensations, the feeling of warm treacle down your back… okay, maybe the last one’s just me, but it was certainly a piece to make the heart soar and put a great big stupid grin on your face. Yeah, my levels were made to go silly. And Sayaka Ichikawa’s smile? Stunning, just stunning. Actually all her emoting was GREAT.
The first half drew to a close with Javier de Frutos’ The One Played Twice to a Hawaiian barbershop quartet singing traditional Hawaii songs. If anything there is now a great need in my life for more Hawaiian barbershop quartet music, seriously. I was wary, I confess, my previous run in with de Frutos being his somewhat controversial piece for some kind of Beyond Diaghelev evening at Sadlers Wells a few years (a piece I hated, incidentally) and I’ve avoided him ever since. THIS MAY HAVE BEEN A VERY FOOLISH MOVE ON MY PART. The One Played Twice was so much fun – especially the two solo pieces for Kanika Carr (who has amazing hair) and Sarah Kundi (who has possibly the most expressive hands in the world). Ballet it so dominated by the feet that to see, albeit two short solos, where the dancers remain firmly planted in their space using the upper body and facial expressions to tell the story is a departure from the norm and one I really loved.
After the runaway success of Storyville last year (which catapulted itself firmly into my top ten, if not top five, short works), I did wonder how Christopher Marney could ever live up to Christopher Hampson’s piece. Quite well is the answer. War Letters is a stunning piece to showcase the entire company that took all of my emotions and ripped them quite firmly to shreds before my very eyes. Set to music by Shostakovich and Glenn Miller, War Letters is not strictly linear in the sense of plot but episodic. There’s a soldier’s dream of love back home, the aftermath of shell shock, a night at a dance, the burden of love and what might peace bring. Let’s just say the tears were prickling and burning at the back of my eyes about five minutes in and never properly went away. I think really here the stand out performances were Cira Robinson visiting her shell shocked husband (Jamzon Voss) in hospital and trying to come to terms with how this is going to affect their future – so much emotion, so much. Also Sayaka Ichikawa in Coat, burdened by the love of one man so eventually casting him aside to try out others and in the end realising what she’d lost – heart breaking. On a totally frivolous note however: THE FROCKS WERE ALL TOTALLY FABULOUS AND I WANT ALL OF THEM.
All in all, a cracking evening, and a much welcome opportunity to fall in love with Ballet Black all over again. Go and see them, at once!