Saturday, 16 March 2019

REVIEW: Ballet Black serves up an electric triple bill

Fri 15 Mar
The Barbican Centre
Ballet Black - Triple Bill

To mark Ballet Black's 18th season, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho presents an exciting triple bill: a restoration of Pendulum, first performed ten years ago; Click!, a playful work choreographed by Sophie Laplane; and finally the exquisite Ingoma, created by Ballet Black's very own Mthuthuzeli November, the first company member commissioned to create a main stage ballet.

In Pendulum, dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November oscillate through suspension and powerful shifts of movement. Set to Steve Reich's rumbling score, the short duet swings between moments of combat and intimacy, as Ichikawa and November circle one another and then launch into fleshy phrases. The duo move with exact precision: clean lines and perfect fouettés. This, combined with rippling shoulders and sumptuously deep lunges, demonstrates Ballet Black's skill and ability to hybridise dance forms.

Click! PC: Bill Cooper

Click!, Laplane's episodic exploration of the gestural meanings of clicking the fingers, is both groovy and tender. With the dancers dressed in bright suits and lit with coloured spotlights, Click! has a distinctly 80s feel to it. While Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence's duet is playful and cartoon-like, José Alves and Cira Robinson's duet is wrought with tender embraces. They cling to one another, pushing their foreheads together as they shift through moments of contact; they're a couple that just 'click' together.

Ingoma, PC: Bill Cooper

The highlight of the night, Ingoma, starts slowly. The dancers tread about a dark stage in wellies, hoisting rope over their shoulders and tipping buckets of dirt onto the floor. A huddled conversation and the dimming of the lights marks the beginning of a turbulent and powerful narrative. Choreographed by November, the piece delves into the loss and pain precipitated by the 1940s South African miners' strike, where over 1200 workers were injured and at least 9 killed. Ingoma has a relentless energy that propels the dancers through the movement. Even in moments of quiet and stillness, there's a driving rhythm that bubbles beneath the surface. Ichikawa's portrayal of a woman who's lost her partner to the strikes is captivating. A fist pumping motif used by the company develops from a powerful symbol of resistance to an image of the strained protests of a grief-stricken woman who's lost her loved-one. Ingoma demonstrates not only the individual physicality of each dancer, but their strength as an assembly. The company move as one beast, sweeping across the shadowy space, pick-axes above their heads and fists held high.

Ingoma, PC: Mthuthuzeli November

While Pancho is triumphant in her objective of opening ballet up to black and ethnic minority dancers by creating an entire troupe of BAME role models, it seems her aim of making Ballet Black obsolete is still far off. Last year, ENB came under criticism for splashing images of first artist Precious Adams across their marketing campaign for Swan Lake, despite Adams not being cast as a principle for the production. Tokenism? You decide. In the very same year Adams also came under criticism herself for refusing to wear pink ballet tights, in favour of flesh tone tights that matched her own skin tone.

For now, regardless of whether or not Ballet Black become redundant, there will indeed still be a place for the company's artistic talent, distinctive repertory and identity.

Maya Pindar

Ballet Black's triple bill continues at Barbican Centre until 17 March

Saturday, 9 March 2019

REVIEW: Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED at Blue Elephant Theatre

Fri 08 Mar
Blue Elephant Theatre
Shelley Owen and Josh Slater - TRY|TRYING|TRIED

Contemporary dance artists Shelley Owen and Josh Slater explore the vulnerability of human relationships. The opening of the episodic duet sees Owen and Slater sat side-by-side on chairs upstage. They could be two strangers in a train station or a couple in their own kitchen. Owen moves softly with arms that sweep and thread. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, the couple run and walk about the space. There is nothing formal, nor pretentious, about TRY|TRYING|TRIED.

Josh Slater and Shelley Owen in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

The duo step forward toward two tidy piles of clothes, folded carefully on blocks. They layer up, pulling on long-sleeves, jumpers, hats and scarfs over their heads. The tone changes: suddenly it's a competition. The couple pose provocatively on the blocks, arching their backs and throwing their heads back. The competitive posing eventually ends with Owen and Slater scrabbling around on the floor tearing at their clothes until both are naked but for their underwear.  

The soundscape of pedestrian sounds, chatter and rail announcements gives way to the retro soul of Paloma Faith's Just Be. Clad in a black bra and underpants, Owen opens a bottle of red wine and sets out two glasses. While Slater carefully folds the clothes that are now strewn about the space, Owen drinks half the bottle of wine. A distinctly somber tone seems to permeate TRY|TRYING|TRIED during this episode. Despite how affecting Paloma Faith's lyrics are, it might have been more moving to see Owen polish off that half a bottle of wine in total silence. 

Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

TRY|TRYING|TRIED honestly reveals the sensitivity and vulnerability of intimate relationships. Overall, Owen and Slater present a refreshingly unpretentious and honest work of dance, which left me simply wanting more. I wanted to know more about the competition within the relationship and I wanted more about that half a bottle of red wine. 

Maya Pindar

TRY|TRYING|TRIED continues for one more night at Blue Elephant Theatre on Sat 09 March 2019. For more information and to book tickets head over to the website.