Ballet Black; Royal Ballet review – mixed blessings and beauty in motion

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In its 20 years of existence, Ballet Black has commissioned more than 50 ballets by 37 different choreographers. So it was only to be expected that it would mark its anniversary with a double bill of new work.

The first, Say It Loud, is a lively tribute to what the company has achieved down the years, loosely shaped in seven chapters by artistic director Cassa Pancho to a varied soundtrack by Michael “Mikey J” Asante that takes in everything from Steve Reich to Lord Kitchener and Etta James. There are words in there too; a reminder of the prejudice and opposition the company has faced from liberals – “Shouldn’t you be making works about slavery?” – as well as the purely racist.

Its structure lets the dancers shine; so much of the appeal of this company lies in the talent it has allowed to blossom. These are individuals who you want to watch. This saves the second piece, Black Sun, by the South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma, which claims to be about standing together against human degradation but felt totally baffling.

At the Royal Opera House, a triple bill containing a new work by Kyle Abraham (alongside revivals of the dramatic Solo Echo by Crystal Pite and Christopher Wheeldon’s still gleaming DGV) arrived to break the monotony of endless Swan Lakes. The Weathering reveals the American’s idiosyncratic ability to create beautiful movement that shifts between the formal and the casual as he marshals his 11 dancers (two women, nine men) in fluid patterns.

Imbued with a sense of loss and longing, partly thanks to Dan Scully’s Chinese lantern lighting, it plays on the contrasts between very rapid turns and jumps and slow unfoldings. A duet for Calvin Richardson and Joseph Sissens, where they lean into each other catches the eye; so do the busy, bluesy twists of arms and legs that give shape and texture to the steps. Fumi Kaneko has a solo where her long arms and limbs seem to scrape the air; Anna Rose O’Sullivan turns like a top into the wings. The entire cast looks wonderful.

Star ratings (out of five)
Black Ballet
★★★
Royal Ballet
★★★★

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