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Ballet Black: Triple Bill

at Barbican

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An outstanding trio of performances that redefine ballet.

Image of Ballet Black: Triple Bill

March 2019 marks the world premiere of Ballet Black: Triple Bill, a marvellous trio of performances brought to the Barbican by Ballet Black in their 18th season. Eclectic in style, the company’s dances offers remnants of conventional ballet that have a contemporary edge – leading to an exciting night for all in attendance.

Opening the show is Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrance. When dancers Mthuthuzeli November and Sayaka Ichiwaka first take to the stage, there is no music. The silence, at first, feels confusing – as if there has been a technical glitch. Yet as the dancers continue in their challenging of one another, mirroring their steps, it is clear that they are setting the performance’s rhythm themselves. The competitive nature of the duet is intense, and the sheer athleticism of the performers is a marvel to behold. When the music starts to play – the muffled beat of a pendulum steadily getting faster – the intensity increases, climaxing as Ichiwaka begins to give in to November’s touch. It’s an excellent start to the night, highlighting the fact that the ballet performed by the company is far from ordinary.

Next comes Click!, choreographed by Scottish Ballet Choreographer in Residence, Sophie Laplane. Vibrant in style, Click! is full of flare. The five dancers – led by Isabela Coracy – move to the clicks of the music and Coracy’s own snapping of her fingers, their motions dictated by the beat. The groove of the group number leads to three short pieces – the moods of which are dictated by the tone of the music. While Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence offer a quirky, loved-up routine, José Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet has a more sombre, serious tone, as their passion is accentuated by the music – composed by To Rococo Rot. As the group come together afterwards, Click!’s rhythm picks up again, with cool, sharp moves that keep up the dizzying pace right until the final snap.

Admittedly, the lights going up after only half an hour does seem a little ludicrous; however when Ingoma begins, the need to distance the two acts becomes clear. Completely different in style and tone, Ingoma is more than a dance – it is a story. Choreographed by Ballet Black dancer November, the performance depicts the African Mine Workers’ Strike, which took place in South Africa in 1946. While we see the company take on the role of the miners – with their hardhats and pick axes – the focus of the performance is on those left behind: in this case Ichikawa, portraying a miner’s wife.

Every element of the performance seems a perfect fit; the contrast of the sun-kissed lighting to the white light following the violence, the music composed by Peter Johnson, and Yann Seabra’s costuming. The brilliance of Ingoma is almost blinding, like the head torches the miners wear. November offers a beautiful array of performance styles throughout, from the Gumboot dance of the miners as they begin their work to the more traditional ballet number featuring solely the female cast, who are occasionally en pointe. In doing this, he shows faithfulness to both the traditional medium of ballet and the African culture and communities that have inspired the number. There is symbolism and depth within this piece that adds further richness to the performance.

Without a doubt, Ingoma has the potential to be further developed and fleshed out to create a full-length show. For now, though, we see a woman’s profound suffering as she bids farewell to her miner husband, later struggling to come to terms with her grief after the violence that ensued in the wake of the strikes. Lead performer Ichikawa is phenomenal in Ingoma, and indeed the stand-out dancer of the night. Not only does she dance beautifully, but she also encapsulates the pain and suffering those left on the side-lines endured. Her anguish and vulnerability is viscerally portrayed and strongly contrasts her earlier performance in Pendulum, where she is cool and controlled in her movements.

That’s not to say that her fellow dancers fall short of expectations: they each do a sterling job in telling us the story, their own demeanours beautifully complimenting Ichikawa’s performance. As Ingoma comes to an end, the company’s power as a unit is palpable. The sweat pouring off their bodies is testament to the passion they have for their art, as is the applause from the audience. Ballet Black is certainly a dance company to look out for.