Ballet Black were a company that first filtered across my radar in 2009 with a piece called ‘Pendulum’ which they danced at an evening of random pieces in the Clore that I’d been enticed into seeing because there was a new Kirsten McNally piece in it. The piece, its dancers and the company stuck in my mind at that juncture and, several months later, I found myself attending their 2010 run in the Linbury. Last year at their Linbury performances they unveiled their first narrative ballet in the form of Will Tuckett’s Orpheus on a bill with various short works from the company’s ten year history. Last night they were premiering three short works alongside their new narrative piece – Christopher Hampson’s Storyville.
The bill opened with Jonathan Watkins’ Together Alone, a vehicle for Sarah Kundi and Jamzon Voss, exploring the possibility that although you can be close to someone it’s perhaps never quite close enough. I enjoyed it, the fact it stepped slightly outside of your average pas de deux box – the dancers together but never quite actually together, moving by and through each other and only occasionally actually making that connection. This was followed by Jonathan Goddard’s Running Silent, a solo piece ably danced by Kanika Carr but somehow I couldn’t quite make a connection with it. The first half closed with Martin Lawrence’s Captured set to Shostakovich in which Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson particularly shone – not kidding, Robinson is fierce in it, this aching, overwhelming passion just bursting out of her. The music’s dark, the piece is dark, this all consuming, all encompassing sense of love and betrayal and passion and… oh so much more. On the whole of the three though it was Watkins’ piece that stood out for me.
I’d been following the evolution of Storyville with half an eye over on Twitter (if you don’t already, you should totally go and follow @BalletBlack right now instantly this second) so I was quite excited to get to see the finished product. You know what, I only had one teeny tiny problem with this piece: it wasn’t long enough, now there’s a turn up for the books. The story is simple: Nola, a lost girl, winds up in Storyville and falls into the clutches of Lulu White and Mack who, essentially, tout her out as a dancer. In the interim, as she sinks deeper into the sleazy world of New Orleans jazz, she meets her lover who tries to save her and, whilst Nola tries, really thinks she can escape, she can’t – she’s forever doomed to be haunted by Lulu and Mack and, of course, it all ends horribly. Cira Robinson’s Nola is just incredible – going from sweet and innocent, to a flirtatious dancer, to tortured soul accompanied by fabulous technique and incredible passion as she throws herself headlong into the role. Sarah Kundi as Lulu and Jamzon Voss as Mack are suitably wicked and enticing, dragging you into their world, down to their level before you’ve kind of even fully realised what’s going on. Kanika Carr also shines, occasionally flirting her way across the stage carrying a board to indicate where we’re at in the story. Conceptually the whole thing is brilliant – sleazy, dirty, despairing, hopeful, broken. It’s set to various Kurt Weill pieces each reflecting the mood of the scene – especially liked the almost tango-esque pieces for Lulu and Mack, evoking a sense of low down dirty danger. Like I said, my only problem was it just wasn’t long enough – I’d’ve quite happily liked another ten minutes or so to tease out the emotions and the story fully. At the end, even though you know Nola’s only way out is death, there’s still a moment of shock that it’s come to this.
I’d love to see it again, only the fact that it appears to be pretty night on impossible to get a ticket for the rest of the run is preventing me… if you can go then do, I implore you.