By: Mar. 04, 2017
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This year's triple bill marks Ballet Black's 16th year since Cassa Pancho founded the company in 2001. Their message remains the same as their fan base continues to grow: diversity. This small company of only eight dancers can now comfortably sell out London's large Barbican Theatre for several consecutive nights and their tours of the country continue for months after. Their work, whether old or new, always demonstrates a glorious level of technique, precision and grace that keeps audiences coming back.

Just as Arthur Pita's Cristaux made for a decorative opening to last year's triple bill, Michael Corder's House of Dreams fulfils a similar function here. It features two alternating duos dressed in attractive autumnal colours, the women in floaty mesh skirts. The choreography appears deliberately simple and is undoubtedly lifted by the four different Debussy piano accompaniments. This non-narrative ballet allows the audience to simply enjoy the beauty of the featured dancers.

Marie Astrid Mence and Jacob Wye are strong while remaining lyrical, whereas Sayaka Ichikawa and Damien Johnson have a lighter, more fluid touch. Both duos exhibit wonderful lines and beautiful arabesques that make for a romantic opening. Occasionally it's nice to see a work like this than doesn't require too much thought from the viewer other than to sit back and absorb.

Martin Lawrence's 2012 piece, Captured, similarly features four dancers paired up, however this time there is an obvious tension incorporated into the choreography that makes for more challenging viewing. The ever-talented Cira Robinson and partner Mthuthuzeli November take on the piece with great attack and are full of intensity from the off. The piece begins and ends with this pair in the spotlight, suggesting the secondary pairing of Isabela Coracy and Jose Alves are the threat they are defending themselves against.

There is some engaging interplay and strong synchronised armography, although the piece could still benefit from further narrative clarity. Rebecca Hayes's interesting costume design suggests a gladiatorial element with shiny metallic stud adorned on the women's shoulders and arms.

The real highlight of the evening is Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's fresh take on Red Riding Hood. Here, Cira Robinson is all wide-eyed innocence, her long legs are given some wonderful extensions to showcase her classical skill. She's supported by her hip hop ensemble who bounce around, all hips and swagger; the world surrounding Red is always highly sexually charged. Mthuthuzeli November's wolf embodies this predatory theme with his confident strides, cheeky winks and leather hat - not to mention his long-slung tail that's constantly being spun by his loose wrists.

Red is tossed and turned through a series of alternative scenarios, at one point she displays a swollen stomach, which is promptly disposed of by the ensemble in one of a few surreal touches. The use of silhouette projected onto the back of the stage is a stylish touch that adds to the slightly eerie aesthetic of the piece. It's a hugely entertaining 45 minutes or so that's consistently engaging, whether Red coming against the big bad wolf or Jose Alves's take on the Grandmother who gets his/her own moment, pointe shoes and all.

And so Pancho lands another successful evening's programme. There is enough here for traditionalists and contemporary fans alike to be satisfied, as well as material strong enough to showcase these elegant yet athletic dancers to the best of their great abilities.

Ballet Black at the Barbican until 4 March and then touring until June.