Another year and another terrific bill from Ballet Black, mixing two strong and sophisticated works from much sought after international choreographers. It’s a pleasure also to note that in the last year the company has also now got regularly funded status from Arts Council England. Long overdue, it’s recognition not only for the quality of what they do for the art but also for attracting a new ballet/dance audience – you go to their shows and you see a very different audience that’s a diverse mix of people looking to be entertained. All up, it’s Arts Council money well spent for the nation and not a minority, which can sometimes feel the case.
The new work on the bill was Cathy Marston’s The Suit – a tragic story of love and betrayal from South Africa and like their earlier Storyville (based in New Orleans) a ballet that fits Ballet Black like a glove and you can’t imagine another company doing anywhere near as convincingly. To an assembled mosaic of eight 20th century works recorded by Kronos Quartet and bridged together by the clever Philip Feeney, this 30 minute work charts the love of Matilda and Philemon – the seemingly ideal couple before Philemon returns home early to find his wife in bed with her lover, Simon. Simon’s suit, left in haste, then becomes a cipher of the deed, always hanging around on stage as the husband and wife try and patch things up. But there are no happy endings here and love doesn’t triumph in this short story by Can Themba.
Marston and the company of seven tell it masterfully, with scenes in the home and also out and about in a 1950’s Johannesburg teeming with life. Jane Heather’s costumes are realistic but the house and the wider world are cleverly only sketchily suggested. Marston’s duets are memorably direct and clear for Cira Robinson and Jose Alves (husband) and then Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November (lover) – she has the cleverness of MacMillan in showing internal thoughts as telling movement. But she also uses the other dancers as a chorus background to the duets – magnifying up the actions and feelings as they pulse and ripple with the emotions emanating from the protagonists. The Suit is a work that stretches the company and again confirms Marston as a clever and fresh communicator of work that people can readily ‘read’. As an aside you should note that Marston’s Jane Eyre for Northern Ballet, much critically acclaimed also, is about to tour again and shouldn’t be missed.
Arthur Pita’s A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream, from 2014, is making a welcome return. It’s where Pita’s often madly excessive theatrical world collides head on with ballet in a fusion stirred by Shakespeare’s own mischievous storytelling. As the title implies it’s not a telling of the normal plot but rather playing with some of the characters. It might start with Handel and formal tutus but with the arrival of Isabela Coracy’s cross-dressing bearded Scout (as Puck) we enter the dream world where Titania (Cira Robinson), Oberon (Jose Alves) and the four lovers’ motivations are all fancifully skewed. It’s a delightfully wild ride that has us all smilingly bemused not least when Salvador Dali blunders through and Marie Astrid Mence’s Hermia hooks up with Sayaka Ichikawa’s wild Helena, much to the surprise of the men in their life. Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes look a million dollars and the whole company sell it well and send us home happy. One just wishes the night could have been longer. Clever Cassa Pancho, the Ballet Black director, for putting on one of the company’s finest nights.