Marking their 20th anniversary, Ballet Black’s Double Bill is a defiant celebration of their achievements, silencing their critics while reminding audiences why they are such an exciting dance company to watch.
Directed by company founder and Artistic Director, Cassa Pancho, Say It Loud commemorates Ballet Black’s beginnings, influences, triumphs, and trials. A collaborative piece between Pancho and the company’s artists, Say It Loud is broken down into seven “chapters”, each with a different tone, style, and message.
With only seven dancers onstage, their movements are more exposed than in a traditional ballet company. Throughout the evening, there is a noticeable lack of synchronicity in the group sections, with some dancers occasionally being a millisecond out of time or not extending their bodies in the same way as the others. While this may bother some traditionalists, here it feels intentional – giving the dancers the freedom to move to their own rhythm and do what feels natural to them.
The theatre really comes alive with chapter two – a solo piece danced by Mthuthuzeli November. “Welcome to London” sees ballet, street dancing, and grime blend together. While a nod to the company’s capital origins, Flowdan’s lyrics shed light on the dangers of being Black in London (accentuated by the spotlights that move around the stage like surveillance lights). Following this is a fun and vibrant calypso-inspired piece celebrating Pancho’s Trinidadian heritage. Another highlight is Cira Robinson and José Alves’ duet to “At Last”. Reminiscent of Swan Lake, the pair’s movements prove that the company are equally accomplished in more classical pieces.
The transitions between each chapter feature verbatim comments made by audiences, sceptics online, and even the dancers themselves. They confront the criticism Ballet Black faced when they first formed; how the company has been belittled by those who don’t understand why representation matters. They also challenge the unfair and unjust expectations directed towards the company, as critics ask why they don’t use their platform exclusively to educate audiences about Black history and current politics. With each piece, the dancers brush off such comments and remind us why we are all there: a love for ballet. The joy the performers feel as they dance radiates off the stage, creating a wonderful atmosphere in the theatre.
The uplifting close of Say It Loud gives way to the tense and mysterious atmosphere of the night’s second performance. Directed and choreographed by Gregor Maqoma, Black Sun is a mesmerising spectacle. Full of spiritual energy and intensity, the piece is captivating from start to finish. As well as some beautiful group and solo work, we are treated to phenomenal vocals from November and Isabela Coracy, as well as impressive drumming from the rest of the company. The standout performer, though, is Robinson. Tortured by some undisclosed entity, her skittish, rigid movements are striking to behold. Though the narrative is more abstract than previous works in the company’s repertoire, you are easily absorbed by the sheer power of the dancers’ movements and vocals.
20 years in, Ballet Black continue to inspire audiences with their immeasurable talent and limitless style of dance. It’s a true privilege to see this company perform, each time breaking new boundaries and surpassing all expectations. Here’s to the next 20 years.