Black and Asian Dancers Steeped in Classical Ballet Tradition

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Limbo, Two of a Kind, A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream: Ballet Black, Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre), London, 26.02.2014 (JO’D)

Dancers: José Alves, Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson, Cira Robinson, Kanika Carr, Isabela Coracy, Jacob Wye, Christopher Renfurm

Choreography:Martin Lawrence
Music: Paul Hindemith: Sonata for Solo Viola (1922) Op. 25 No.1
Lighting Designs: David Plater
Costume Designs: Rebecca Hayes

Two of a Kind
Choreography: Christopher Marney
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence String sextet in D minor, Op. 70 (1890), Adagio cantabile e con moto in D major; Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte (1910)
Lighting Designs: David Plater
Costume Designs: Yukiko Tsukamoto

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream
Director and Choreographer: Arthur Pita
Music: Handel (Sarabande keyboard suite in D minor); Vivanco (Malambo Part 1); Gozzo/May (Gopher); Cole Porter (Let’s Do It); Shelton (Lilac Wine); Hart & Rogers (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered); Anthony & the Johnsons (Twilight)
Designs: Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting Designs: David Plater
Sound Design: Andrew Holdsworth and Frank Moon

Founded by Cassa Pancho in 2001, with the aim of providing role models for young black and Asian dancers, Ballet Black defines itself as a ‘neo-classical ballet company’. Its eight dancers, of international backgrounds, show evidence of classical ballet training in the way they refine movement and pose.

In Limbo, the first of the three new works presented by the company on their return to the Linbury Studio, the focus is often on the arms of the two men (in contrasting tunics and tights of silver and dark red) and one woman who occupy the stage. Choreographer Martin Lawrence was a dancer with the Richard Alston Dance Company for twelve years. Alston’s influence can be felt in the choice of music (a recording of Hindemith), and in the ‘chamber’ atmosphere in which the uneasy relationships between the three dancers are played out. There may be too many entrances and exits for so short a piece, but there is a fluid solo by Jacob Wye, and a ‘skimming lift’ in which the woman (Cira Robinson) treads backwards as she is held high in the air by the two men. The simple lowering of their arms by two of the dancers which ends the piece becomes here a gesture with echoes of meaning.

For Two of a Kind, by Christopher Marney, dancers Kanika Carr and Sayaka Ichikawa wear pointe shoes below their yellow, A-line dresses. Their partners (Damien Johnson and Christopher Renfurm) are in shirts and trousers of everyday cut, but metallic grey material. The music is by Tchaikovsky (a composer with whom Marney, as Associate Choreographer on Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, must be very familiar) and Ravel. There is a suggestion, early on, that the second woman to appear is the mirror image of the first. Throughout, the two couples form patterns that differ only in a detail. During the Ravel (‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’) there is a powerful synthesis of the rising, falling music and the movements of the men and women in their alternating pas de deux. The emotional level reached is sustained until the end. Two more couples, identically dressed, walk on like the courtiers in the last act of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ itself. When they walk off, the other dances follow, except for the first woman who is left, or who chooses to remain, suddenly alone.

It is at the start of Arthur Pita’s A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream that the dancers look, and move, most like classical ballet dancers. But they are backlit, and surrounded by dry ice, and Handel’s music is thunderous and slow. Very soon, Puck (Isabela Coracy) appears, in a boy scout’s uniform and with flowers adorning his false beard, to bring life to their sterile motions. For a while, the audience responded with enthusiasm to the change of tempo and style as the dancers, with evident enjoyment, extended their range of movement (and sexual inclination) to recordings of Yma Sumac, Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt and Anthony and the Johnsons. Pita’s ‘The Metamorphosis’, was (for me) too much ‘after’ Kafka. This piece may be too free, for any audience, with Shakespeare’s play, with what it discards and what it adds (Salvador Dalí in person, and a reference to Audrey Hepburn in ‘Charade’). By the end, and disappointingly after the choreographer’s recent ‘Volver, Volver’ for Ivan Putrov’s ‘Men in Motion’ at the Coliseum, it is in danger of becoming a series of disconnected, if memorable and visually striking, moments.

John O’Dwyer