Following the success of their 20th anniversary season, Ballet Black have once again returned to Scotland with their new show, Pioneers. As the title suggests, this latest double bill is an homage to two trailblazing artists and activists, and unsurprisingly proves to be just as memorable as the two women who inspired it.

The first pioneer is feminist poet Adrienne Rich, whose poems lay the foundations for Act I’s piece, Then or Now. In this spoken-word performance, the company’s moves are led by poems selected from Rich’s collection Dark Fields of the Republic (1991-1995). Accompanying Rich’s words is a pre-recorded solo violin performance by Daniel Pioro titled Then or Now (after one of Rich’s poems), which offer improvised variations of a theme by seventeenth-century composer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber.

With the Festival Theatre’s stage sparsely populated by white chairs and a few standing stage lights, all eyes are on Ballet Black’s dancers – particularly Helga Paris-Morales, who opens and closes the piece. Moving to the rhythm of Rich’s recited verse and Pioro’s violin, the dancers effortlessly transition from solo to group dances, weaving around one another. The power and precision of the dancers is simply exquisite, with Paris-Morales’ facial expressions in particular conveying the weight of some of Rich’s more pertinent and heavier themes.

Admittedly, there is some disconnect between the poetry and performance. Despite having three performers read Rich’s work (Hafsah Bashir, Natasha Gordon, and Michael Shaeffer), there is little space left between them, and the poems slowly begin to merge into one another. This leads Rich’s “spoken score”, which varies in its imagery and tone, to be slightly jarring at times, detracting focus from the performers onstage. As a result, the more striking moments come towards the end of the piece, when the dancers are left dancing solely to Pioro’s beautifully fragile and tender accompaniment.

While Act I may not have the same edge as previous Ballet Black performances, Act II serves as a reminder of the extraordinary work this company is capable of curating. NINA: By Whatever Means is inspired by the life and work of singer and activist Nina Simone. Exploring Simone’s private and professional life, the piece tracks Simone’s trajectory from child church pianist to household name, while also offering us a brief glimpse of her turbulent relationship.

Playing the role of Simone is Senior Artist Isabela Coracy, whose commanding presence emulates Simone and captivates the audience from the outset. Her duet with Alexander Fadayiro is a gut-wrenching but sensitively choreographed depiction of the domestic violence Simone endured during her second marriage. Confined to a small, suffocating space demarcated by the set, the pair effectively convey the suffocating tension felt within their marital home.

While the piece may be a somewhat incomplete and disjointed narrative of Simone’s life, the payoff comes in the final number. What starts off as a nod to the injustice and terror fought against by the civil rights movement – with the hooded ensemble walking on and off the stage with various protest signs – culminates in a breath-taking group performance of Simone’s Sinnerman with Coracy at the centre. It’s in this thrilling conclusion that choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s own pioneering talent shines through, with many audience members instantly on their feet as soon as the music stops.

Indeed, while this double bill may pay homage to key figures of the past, it is important to recognise Ballet Black as pioneers in their own right. For once again, they triumph in showcasing how boundless ballet can be.