Insight evening: Ballet Black, Clore Studio @ ROH – reviewed on 10th January
At last year's insight evening, Ballet Black Director Cassa Pancho said that although her company was set up to promote the work of UK black and ethnic minority dancers, it had become equally well-known for its creation of exciting new ballets by both upcoming and more experienced choreographers. Now 12 years old and an associate company of the Royal Opera House, Ballet Black is in great shape, and its latest triple bill (at the Linbury Studio Theatre, 25 February - 4 March) will feature work by Arthur Pita, Christopher Marney and Martin Lawrance.
It was the former who rehearsed his version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the insight evening last week. "I have been creating a lot of dark work so I wanted to do something a bit more light-hearted and fun. I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare but his writing lends itself really well to dance. Plus everyone knows the stories and what to expect which is easier when creating narrative work."
Pita's A Dream within a Midsummer Night's Dream turns the original tale on its head, with a female Puck character wearing Boy Scout uniform and gay affairs between both Oberon and Lysander and Helena and Hermia. But Pita is also including the traditional classical ballet elements of tiaras and tutus: "I wanted the girls to feel like real ballerinas. They've never got to dance in tutus with Ballet Black before."
Pita rehearsed Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson as Titania and the donkey in a duet where Titania has just awoken feeling "drugged up and lustful". He encouraged Robinson to dance with her eyes closed to convey her character's sense of sleepiness, even though much of his choreography involved off-balance poses and tricky lifts.
An opening solo for Robinson also had to be added as Pita had been forced to change the accompanying track after he was refused permission for his first choice. (This had been a song from the film 'Mary Poppins' that was somewhat shorter in length than its replacement. Interestingly though, Pita tends to plan his movement ideas before choosing music, so choreography is not robustly linked to its music.)
Having seen (and loved) The Metamorphosis, Pita's fabulously contorted and engaging tale of a man who is transformed into an insect, I will be very interested to see how this Dream turns out in performance. But whether it is a success or not, it is always a joy to see the small-in-size but big-in-power Ballet Black onstage.