This time of year Ballet Black always unveil their new bill – usually to much acclaim. It’s exciting because they always have some new pieces to show us and they always sell out the ROH Linbury no matter how many shows they do. Somehow it’s never a grumpy gig. New work is often thought difficult to sell, but they show otherwise, and long may they. This year they presented a brand new dramatic work from Mark Bruce, fresh from collecting his National Dance Award for Best Independent Company and touring of Dracula, and a piece by another senior choreographer, Will Tuckett. It’s one they originally commissioned 6 years ago but the company has moved on since then and it looked fresh as a daisy to many. Opening proceedings was a 10 minute appetiser by Kit Holder.
To Fetch a Pail of Water? takes its inspiration from the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme and supposes they were real people. I saw it more for its parallels with young love – a couple meet, all is happy, there is sex and then everything gets more complex and they part. It’s revealed in episodes separated by dark interludes and its 10 minute length means you jump around and it’s not clear why at the time. Kit Holder is a dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, now increasingly making classically-based choreography but I’m not yet sure of his own style – little of the movement here really knocked me out with its originality. But chutzpah for trying to do a story ballet in 10 minutes and to Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye for selling it well.
Will Tuckett’s Depouillement is a side of him we very rarely see – full-on ‘straight’ neo-classical choreography. That also means it’s a side of Ballet Black we rarely see and it’s a piece that technically demands a great deal of its 6 dancers. This is Balanchine-level movement and the dancers have been coached well so it all knits together and feels as one, rather more so than the bigger companies sometimes manage in such work. It’s a stretch technically for them but buffed up so well they look a million dollars. The work hinges around a long pas de deux for Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson – both fine – and she has a cool, willowy look that comes with satisfyingly musical movement. A ballerina you can trust. It’s to Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, and I was reminded of Balanchine’s maxim: “See the music, hear the dance”. Tuckett has done a dazzling job.
Mark Bruce’s Second Coming rather derails you unless you have done some homework. But derails you in a nicely crazy way, I think. Bruce has constructed his own fairy tale – if importantly a rather odd one with no particular moral conclusion – other than when work is done we can all party. The title comes form a William Butler Yeats poem but there are influences from the Brothers Grimm and elsewhere – detailed in a programme Q&A with Bruce. But even with all the influences known it’s still a murky thing made more surreal by the eclectic choice of music – 10 pieces from Tom Waits to Elgar via Shostakovich conjure wonderful atmospheres over what is a 35-minute roller coaster ride featuring devils, monsters, voodoo and formal dance sections – a lovers’ duet and almost national dances pop out. Damien Johnson and Kanika Carr, both stage magnets, strongly lead Second Coming (for the entire company of eight) as Ruler/Master of Ceremonies and sidekick Angel. Carr particularly is a feisty and dramatic dancer you want to see much more of. But Cira Robinson and Jose Alves are notable also for a powerfully quiet and mysterious duet. Dorothee Broduck’s colourful costume designs really add to the punch of the piece and the lack of set is compensated for by some dramatic lighting and projections by the company’s own David Plater.
All up, another win for Ballet Black – a strong double bill of consequence and contrast preceded by a short amuse-bouche. They are touring in April, May and June – do catch them.