BWW Review: BALLET BLACK, Barbican

BWW Review: BALLET BLACK, BarbicanBWW Review: BALLET BLACK, BarbicanBallet Black is a diverse company, comprised of black and Asian dancers, that has been annually performing their charismatic brand of dance in London since 2001.

Always a treat, with only seven dancers one really feels as if they have come to know the individual personalities over the years, as they move seamlessly from the sincere to the playful in this latest double bill of story ballets.

The Suit was created especially for them by Cathy Marston. On the surface it's an unremarkable tale of a woman who is found to be cheating on her husband, who then shames her into carrying around the lover's symbolic suit as a reminder of her betrayal.

Designer Jane Heather's muted colours and the mostly melancholic score makes for heavier viewing than typical Ballet Black fare, nonetheless the woeful tale is told with an earnest clarity, with the three key figures supported by a remaining chorus of four.

Cira Robinson's Matilda is a slinky, seductive mistress in her baby-blue slip dress until she is discovered by her overbearing husband Philemon (Mthuthuzeli November), after which she transforms into a meek and submissive shadow of her former self before she is driven to madness.

This husband and wife share a brief moment of near reconciliation, with Alves and Robinson sharing an uncomfortable chemistry, pushing and pulling against each other and avoiding eye contact.

It's perhaps not the greatest use of a talented ensemble, and the symbolism of the suit feels overplayed, leading to a predictable conclusion, but the ease with which the company conveys characters and emotion ensures the piece is still a success.

Fortunately, the bill takes a more mischievous and gleeful turn with Arthur Pita's 2014 creation, A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a work that sits comfortably with the company, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho even describes it as "something of a signature piece".

Isabela Coracy leads the charge as impish Puck, who delights in causing disarray amongst her puffs of glitter.

The wearing of shimmering silver tutus mean the work is amongst the most traditionally classical in the Ballet Black repertoire, but it remains wonderfully accessible. The regal beginning to Handel's Sarabande is simple but effective, with three couples showcasing their technique with beautifully crisp arabesques and some dramatic fish-dive-esque lifts.

Just as they hit their stride, Coracy's Puck, complete with floral beard and scouting attire, puts a stop to proceedings, and Pita's magical world, inspired by the Shakespeare tale, begins to emerge.

Sayaka Ichikawa is skittish as Helena, who strikes up a flirtatious friendship with Marie Astrid Mence's Hermia. I enjoyed their excitable bouncing in their springy tutus before Ichikawa sees off advances from Lysander (impressive apprentice Ebony Thomas) and Demetrius (Jose Mthuthuzeli) with her fiery fouettés, a la Swan Lake.

Cira Robinson, ethereal as a lovestruck Titania, is graceful and elegant in her duet with Alves. In this setting, to Barbara Streisand's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", their chemistry is earnest and hypnotic.

Pita's interpretation of Shakespeare's Dream is a colourful, engaging and lively work. Its status as a signature within the repertoire is no surprise given the joy it delivers from beginning to end, showcasing the company at their mesmerising best.

Ballet Black's double bill is at the Barbican until 17 March and then touring nationally

Image credit: Bill Cooper

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