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Ballet Black, London 28/10 and 29/10


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#1 JaneD

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Posted 29 October 2003 - 12:08 AM

Ballet Black is a classical ballet company set up to showcase and develop the skills of black and Asian dancers within the UK. The company currenty has six dancers - Cassa Pancho is the Director, and has choreographed for the Royal Academy of Dance and Kent Youth Ballet; Denzil Bailey (ex London City Ballet, English National Ballet, etc.) is Ballet Master, and they are joined by Celia Grannum, Jake Nwogu, Silvestre Sanches and Florence Kollie.

The company are performing a programme of four original neoclassical works at the Cochrane Theatre, Southampton Row, for two nights. Three of these pieces are performed to live music, with the musicians on stage.

The first piece on the programme is "A New Beginning", choreographed by Denzil Bailey to music written and performed by Celloman (Ivan Hussey, Oli Savill and Sami Bishai). Using the whole company to intoxicating South American rhythms, this was an excellent opener. Costumed in earth and fire tones of orange, cream and brown, the first part (against a fiery backdrop) was vibrant and exciting, picking up the rhythms yet staying firmly grounded in the classical vocabulary - no gymnastic or other tricks. Celia Grannum stood out (against a strong company) for her fire and sheer enjoyment of the piece. A tall, passionate dancer, trained at New York University's Tish School of the Arts, she blazed her way through a pas de deux with Silvestre Sanchez (well partenered, despite her height) and solo that raised my pulse. The only moments that, for me, didn't quite fit were the vituoso sections towrads the end of the first part for Florence Kollie and the two men (Sanchez and Nwogu), which didn't seem in keeping with the Latin style. A lighting change, and change of backlighting to a picture of the earth from space seemed for a few moments to cool the pace as Cassa Pancho and the men moved into the fluid, lyrical second part, but the underlying South American feel bubbled back to the surface as the whole company came together in a wonderful example of unified work, building and developing both the choreography and the dancers until its sudden end. It left me wanting more.

The second piece was "Elégie", choreographed by Stephen Sheriff to Poulenc's Elégie for horn and piano. Blueish grey costumes overlaying red, with stronger smudges of red in places hinted at mortal wounds; this was a serious piece, yet not morbid. Sheriff lists MacMillan among his inspirations, and I could see touches of this, but where MacMillan would have had the bitterness of the victim, Sheriff showed the strength of a life lived despite everything. From a start that mixed flurried movement with sudden momentary pauses, the five dancers (without Pancho) moved through a variety of combinations, yet all the time maintaining the appearance of an ensemble. Bursts of energy from the three men melted into strong moments for all five, and a serene solo for Florence Kollie. Kollie is 18, but danced here with a maturity that belied her age (she's also just passed five A-levels, and is now studying Politics and East European Studies at University College as well as dancing with Ballet Black - wow!). Towards the end, the piece became almost joyous, uplifting - I was reminded of Requiem (about the least cynical MacMillan I've seen). Just one small criticism of the piece, which may have been the result of where I was sitting (just about stage level); at the end, each of the dancers removed a piece of their costume - sleeves for the men, overskirts for the women - and left them lying on the stage. From what I could see, these were lined in red so, from a higher angle, they may have formed a pool of "blood" left on the empty stage, but the motion to remove them seemed hurried and anxious, and disturbed (for me) the tranquility of the piece. No matter, this is a work I want to see again.

After the interval, the third work was "Pas de Trois" choreographed by Patrick Lewis to music by Ponchielli. (this was the piece danced to recorded music. The dancers were Florence Kollie and Denzil Bailey. And a chair. I'm not going to say what the music actually is in case some people are planning to go to tonight's performance, but suffice to say it's familiar! This was the comedic piece of the night, this time making full use of Kollie's youth. Dressed in a red tutu, laced at the back in lime green, and in lime green pointe shoes, Kollie restlessly fidgetted and wriggled like a child hearing the music and impatient to dance, before launching herself, and the chair, into bursts of activity, mostly accompanied by an enormous grin. Bailey entered, at first looking entertained by what was going on. Then came the pas de trois (daughter and indulgent father?), which had some variations I hadn't seen before. A fast and furious solo for Bailey brought the resemblence to "The Concert" closer to mind (Michael Colman's butterfly hunting escapades), which wasn't necessarily a good thing; using a full cast, "The Concert" could bring different characters to the fore without confusion but, using only two dancers, "Pas de Trois" blurred at the edges - while Kollie maintained the role of the impulsive child, Bailey's role didn't hold together. However, it showed that the company can tackle comedy, and was extremely popular with the audience. Which leads me to something else - if Ballet Black promotes black and Asian dancers, is their audience different from the standard London audience? If so, and pieces like "Pas de Trois" are popular and make the whole evening more accessible to otherwise non-ballet goers, then I guess I'm not going to ctriticise it too much.

The final work in the programme was "The Boogaloo Rooms", choreographed to three Count Basie songs by Cassa Pancho. It's difficult to match classical style to classic jazz, and it didn't entirely come off here - at times the movements looked far too controlled for the music. The third song kicked off with Jake Nwogu and Silvestre Sanchez in jazz mode, which hit squarely on the right note - if not for the flashes of flouresent colour against the otherwise black costumes this could have been 1940's musical spectacular. The mood held when the two girls (Grannum and Kollie) joined in, and brought the evening to a rousing end.

I hadn't seen Ballet Black before, but will be keeping an eye out for future performances. I've you're in London and are free at 8.00 this evening, I'd strongly advise you to go and see them. The Box Office number is 020 7269 1606, and tickets are £12 (concessions £6).

Jane

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 29 October 2003 - 10:46 AM

Thank you for your review, Jane D -- it certainly sounds like an interesting company.

I need to ask you if you are connected with the company and, if so, what is the connection? When someone posts an announcement about a performance, and then a review that includes box office information, we've found in the past that they're involved with the company in some way. There's no problem if you are, except that we'd ask you to use the announcements forum for company news. But we need the connection to be stated publicly, whether you're the artistic director, relative of a dancer, or box office volunteer.

Thank you!

#3 JaneD

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 12:41 AM

Alexandra

I have no connection at all with the company.

You may recall from my earlier posts that Stephen Sheriff was among my favourite RB dancers of the 1980's; a year or so ago I did a quick internet search to see what he was doing these days, and found that he was a guest teacher for Ballet Black, and might choreograph for them. I've been keeping an eye on their website ever since, and got my chance to see his work for the first time on Tuesday. I admit I was anxious in case I really didn't think much of it, but need not have been.

I put the information up because I thought others in London might like to see a "new" company, and those further afield might be interested in what purports to be Britain's first ever black/Asian company. The Box Office information was 1) so that people could 'phone to see if tickets were available before heading out to Holborn, and 2) to reassure them that tickets were reasonably priced.

Jane

P.S. As to what prompted me to take a look on the internet, I had a new boss in July last year, who was not long back in London after three years working on Grand Turk. The moment I heard this, I could see the opening words of Sheriff's programme notes that I haven't seen for 15 years - "Stephen Sheriff was born in the Turks and Caicos Islands ...". So you can blame my boss for all of this.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 30 October 2003 - 07:59 AM

Thank you, Jane.


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