Our current age is celebrated for a consuming cross pollination among art forms both high and low. There is no doubt that throughout the ages people have been inspired by any and all the detritus of existence,  but in a hyper connected world in which people engage with their preferred art forms intimately, definitively and with the power of immediate sanction or veto, an audience becomes a part of the web of references. This bleed is evident to great effect in Ballet Black’s new programme of two new works and a revival of a work made in 2009.  

Jacob Wye and Kanika Carr in <i>To Fetch a Pail of Water</i> © Bil Cooper
Jacob Wye and Kanika Carr in To Fetch a Pail of Water
© Bil Cooper
A case in point – nursery rhymes are not usually considered a catalyst for classical ballet, although they have the potential to mine a deep seam of mostly obscure meaning. Who hasn’t recited a nursery rhyme and wondered at what secrets it hides in its innocence? To fetch a pail of water? Kit Holder’s fleeting pas de deux was based on the common rhyme about the dehydrated Jack and Jill. There were some interesting ideas; a flush of first love, teenage kicks, youthful betrayals and I enjoyed watching Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye but I felt there was an extra dimension that was missing. It seemed as though there was a story to tell in the piece but it dangled tentatively at the edges of my fingertips, and I would have preferred to have been hit over the head with symbolism and gesture rather than have had to search for it too much.

I did not have any such problem during Will Tuckett’s Depouillement, sparkling at this revival – some old combinations are the best. Mozzarella and tomato. Hepburn and Tracy. Dance and music. A piece based on classical lines and classical configurations which shows off Ballet Black’s terrific dancers a treat, the six of them entirely commanded the choreography and yet managed to present themselves as an ensemble.

Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson in <i>Depouillement</i> © Bill Cooper
Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson in Depouillement
© Bill Cooper
A beautiful response to the music, each of the dancers echoing and amplifying a moment, Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson melted into the pas de deux as the central couple and yet every dancer was a soloist, creating counterpoint with bodies as well as sound.

A new work, Second Coming by Renaissance man Mark Bruce completed the evening. (The choreographer also wrote and recorded some of the soundscape for the piece.) In the programme note Mark Bruce writes that he does not want to impose a moral on a story or even really focus too much on telling one; preferring to leave an audience to glean meaning from the movement and images according to their own experiences. This is inevitable in anything that we see or hear or feel. We humans do this all the time with anything that we experience, from films, books and artwork to the strange conversation we overheard on the bus this morning. So I may tell you what I saw, as anyone might, but you might see and hear and feel something entirely different. I saw Paradise Lost in the suggestion of fallen angels in Kanika Carr’s performance, and I felt heat in David Plater’s lighting designs (and in Tom Waits’ growl, which will always do it) and I heard a tense court masque in Shostakovich’s Waltz as the dancers floated around the stage. I dusted off a memory of Norse gods to try to categorise the Damien Johnson’s disco trickster. I projected meaning onto the tender pas de deux of Cira Robinson and José Alves as Balanchine said I was bound to, and I saw circus themes and a hint of diaspora. Again showing off the dancers of Ballet Black to great advantage, this was a highly enjoyable end to the evening.

Ballet Black in Mark Bruce's *Second Coming © Bill Cooper
Ballet Black in Mark Bruce's *Second Coming
© Bill Cooper

Ballet Black has a reputation for a varied and quality repertoire, as well as the way in which the company continues to grow and develop. I, among many, look forward to its continuing presence in this fertile cultural landscape.

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