Just a few weeks after being awarded the prestigious 2012 Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards for Best Independent Company, Ballet Black has paid its annual visit to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio, presenting four new ballets that confirm the strong commitment of the company to original works. The persistent commission of new choreography by both novice and established choreographers has become a symbol of Ballet Black’s identity and the bill in the Linbury Studio was a fascinating instance of this laudable policy.

Dopamine (you make my levels go silly); choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela; dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and © Bill Cooper
Dopamine (you make my levels go silly); choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela; dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and
© Bill Cooper

The first piece of the evening was Egal by Robert Binet, The Royal Ballet’s Choreographic Apprentice. It explores the possible outcomes of a co-operative endeavour between two equal partners, emphasising the physical strength of the dancers. It is framed by appealing, futuristic music which possesses a melancholic tinge that matches the enquiring mode of the choreography. The duet is demanding and the two dancers of this performance, Cira Robinson and Jacob Wye, performed the fast spins, generous jumps and energetic supports with a solid conviction.

Dopamine (you make my levels go silly) by The Royal Ballet’s First Artist Ludovic Ondiviela is a less abstract and more expressive ballet. Surrounded by warm and at times exuberant music by Fabio D’Andrea, it also investigates the intricacies of a relationship, but focuses on sensuality and desire rather than camaraderie. The lighting effects suggest a shadowy interior where a couple can find tender intimacy. The choreography plays with pace, since slow-motion steps are followed by sudden bursts of movement. The two performers of the duet deservedly drew enthusiastic applause. Sayaka Ichikawa shone in her role as a delighted woman responding to her lover’s caresses while Jazmon Voss, colder and less affectionate, was her attentive and committed partner.

Music plays an important role in Javier de Frutos’ The One Played Twice. The six a cappella songs by the Sounds of Aloha Chorus flood the production with a Hawaiian flavour that the renowned choreographer uses to his advantage. The lyrics inspire the motifs of the choreography whereas the musical mood is allowed to permeate the movement. Paradoxically, the commanding presence of the music is more evident when it is absent. During the linking passages between songs, the dancers keep on dancing despite the silence. By contrast, the arrival of a new song and, with it, of a new theme and a new mood, is stressed by some moments of stillness while the first notes of the tune are heard. This device of temporary dissociation of music and dance highlights the perfect communion between them during the rest of the piece. The two couples in the ballet, José Alves and Kanika Carr, and Damien Johnson and Sarah Kundi, demonstrated good interpretative skills, as they extracted character and personality from the brief abstract roles hinted by the music.

Unlike the preceding numbers, the last ballet in the programme was narrative. War Letters, by the dancer and choreographer Christopher Marney (familiar to audiences for his principal roles in Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures), is inspired by a collection of personal letters discovered on a battlefield during the Second World War. Relying in characterization and episodic events rather than in the delineation of a clear narrative line, it is a reflection of the emotional impact that the war made, both on the soldiers who left for the front and on the women who stayed at home, waiting for their return. The score combines the seriousness and charged emotion of two suites by Dmitri Shostakovich with two easy-listening songs by Glenn Miller. Used for the happy interludes where soldiers on leave visit a dance hall, the latter provide the most moving moments in the ballet. Marney’s choreography becomes poignantly intense in these fragments where the soldiers’ yearning for life is depicted through a seize-the-moment dance. Consciousness of immediate contact with death overshadows and, at the same time, strengthens the joy of these gay steps. The thin line between life and death is so vividly evoked that the suffering of these brave soldiers and their patient girls feels close and real in the audience. With the whole company on stage, War Letters put an emotive end to Ballet Black’s successful evening at the Linbury.

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