Review – Ballet Black Triple Bill

Ballet Black Triple Bill (featuring Storyville)
The Barbican, London
18th March 2016

If you’ve not heard of or seen Ballet Black before, I urge you to get onto YouTube and check out their work. They were founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho and Denzil Bailey, as a company to showcase the talents of dancers of black and Asian heritage. They’re a really well-loved company, especially here in London where they’re based. They have a training academy here too. In fact, one of the really nice things about coming to a Ballet Black show is that there always seems to be a lot of kids, teenagers, young people and their families in the audience – which goes to show how committed they are to teaching and learning I think, and getting young people and their families involved in the world of ballet. Which is great, and makes for a really fun audience experience too.

One of the notable things about the company is that it’s small – there’s only 8 dancers. This means that in effect everyone is functioning like a soloist, and everyone is incredibly strong on stage, as you can imagine.

Friday’s show opened with two more abstract pieces, the first of which was Cristaux. It’s all about the play and dance of light, reflecting and refracting, from crystals – so the Balanchine influence is clear. It features some stunning costuming by Swarovski, with the ballerina (this evening Cira Robinson) appearing as a kind of Metropolis Fairy with a huge Deco-style style tiara made from crystal. The piece is a pas de deux and one of the things I noticed about is that both dancers kept their legs relivately low. There wasn’t a huge amount of massive extension, just clean and strong controlled lines.

Towards the end of piece a huge crystal pendulum appears as if from nowhere, swinging right across the breadth of stage and continuing until it comes to a stop. It seems almost dangerous, as the dancers execute the higher lifts, as if the ballerina could collide with it. There’s a real sense of peril! The beams of light from the pendulum and also the tiara beam out into the audience like searchlights, which i also found quite thrilling. The dancers throughout are not exactly unsmiling, but they do keep their facial expression neutral, which adds an air of ambiguity to the piece too.

This is in contrast to the second piece of the evening, To Begin, Begin. It starts in a seemingly more sober manner, with the dancers in blues and greys, and uses large lengths of fabric to create moving sculptures on stage. It portrays a journey of romantic discovery, and the 6 dancers on stage break off in different configurations, but consistently come back together into pas de deux. There’s playful moments, like when the fabric is used like bedsheets for a romantic vignette. The piece works towards an uplifting ending, with some gorgeous music. A small thing, but what i noticed in particular was the way the dancers were smiling, beaming into each others faces in a really intimate and joyful way.

The headline of the bill is Storyville. When I saw Ballet Black for the first time, the last time they were at the Royal Opera House’s studio theatre with a mixed bill, I came away really impressed and moved by their storytelling abilities – so I was especially excited to see this. Storyville is set in 1915 New Orleans, and the music takes inspiration from that era of Jazz. It makes use of very few props, absolutely no stage scenery, and the costuming remains subtle. This means that the story is told on the strength of the acting alone, which is really impressive. The piece does make use of silent film-style text on cards to introduce characters and move the action forward in time, which is a really nice touch and done in quite a knowing, humorous way.

Storyville tells the story of Nola, a girl who arrives in New Orleans full of hopeful innocence. She becomes a dancer, and soon becomes known as one of the best – and most lucrative – dancers at Lulu White’s club. At the same time, she falls in love with a sailor, who Lulu White is none too impressed by. White and her henchman/lover Mack warn Nola off her lover, and off men in general, telling her to “stay perpendicular”. However at the same time they curiously enact a potent seduction upon Nola. In her imagination they become transformed into the Voodoo King and Queen and her childhood toy, brought with her to the big city, becomes a voodoo doll as she is played with, tossed about and stuck with pins. White and Mack give her beautiful jewellery, a diamond bracelet and choker which become symbolic of the life she is becoming entrapped by. She’s hypnotised by the jewels, but some jealous dancers and club patrons make her drunk and steal them from her. One year later we find her hooked on booze, a kind of Billie Holliday figure who is supremely talented yet addicted. Drunk and stumbling, she’s seen desperately clawing at what remains of her talent and love for dancing, in a really touching moment from Cira Robinson. Nola’s sailor lover, who she has spurned, appears once more to try to save her, but the Voodoo King and Queen have other plans and she design his arms.

The performance and the quality of acting from the dancers was really superb; Cira Robinson as Nola really stood out in particular for with her range of expression. If I had one criticism it would be that I wanted more from the piece in certain moments – just slightly more time to really dance out, for example, Nola’s broken stumbling dreams, and maybe more in the way of costuming perhaps to really underline the razzle-dazzle of the time and place.

Ballet Black are at the Barbican tonight, 19th March, then touring. Learn more about the company at balletblack.co.uk

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Moving

I’ve decided to keep on blogging at Entrechat as I didn’t end up using my blog re-boot at Entrechat Quatre to actually write about a vastly different array of topics! Turns out I do mainly chat about ballet.
So I’m back here!
Apologies if this has messed about with your life in any way.
Got some reviews coming up very soon
and some beautiful ballet art from the archives
and some more chat about doing exams as an adult!

LOVE

xxx

Olivia Cowley’s Ballet Style

Absolutely loving Royal Ballet Soloist Olivia Cowley’s BalletStyle blog. She’s so right, the costumes on stage are absolute works of art and it is a shame that we don’t often get the chance to appreciate the craft and beauty of them up close. But it’s not just stage costumes! We get to see snaps of dancers during their work day and what they wear in class- as well as Olivia’s fab street style.

Here she is as Raven Wife –  a role I really enjoyed seeing her in recently. The costume fascinated me when I saw in on stage. The mask appeared opaque which was so striking and almost quite disturbing. It’s a real pleasure to see the headpiece up close and all the intricate folded ribbons on the tunic.

Source: ballet costumes — Ballet Style

New Linky Links

New links in the sidebar…

Check out my proper boss mate at her blog Oeil Noir for chat about training in Social Work and dancing Ballet  (and being proper boss) and the challenges that hypermobility and chronic fatigue bring.

https://oeilnoirblog.wordpress.com

I’ve also linked to dancer Kathryn Morgan on Youtube, I’ve been using her videos quite a lot lately for stretching routines and stage makeup and all sorts!

 

 

Dance and Wellbeing with Parkinson’s and Mobility Challenges

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I had a great time helping out at the Move into Wellbeing class with Ballet4Life in West London this weekend. The class is aimed at people living with Parkinson’s, and I had found out about it after doing a bit of research stemming from the World Ballet Day segment featuring Dance for Parkinson’s classes.

Dance for Parkinson’s supports classes and learners and is a research-based approach to developing high quality dance experiences for people living with Parkinson’s. Their website lists classes all around the country.

Ballet4Life’s class in Turnham Green is a lovely welcoming group, it was really easy for me to slot in and start taking part. We started off with saying our names around the seated circle with an accompanying movement, which is a really nice way of making eye contact around the group and getting a taste of everyone’s personality with their choice of movement!

Class leader Beatrice then led us through the seated section, beginning with roll-down warm-ups and moving on to an increasing range of movement, incorporating some different rhythms and targeting different areas like mobilising the fingers. Ballet4Life founder and teacher Donna and volunteer assistants take part around the circle too, so that movements can be followed without having to strain to see just one demonstrator.

I recognised a lot of ballet movements that had been adapted to the seated position and made use of a strong stacked parallel posture. There was lots for me to think about in terms of keeping my weight placed and engaging good placement. One of the things that Beatrice is really good at is encouraging little bits of performance, for example one movement became the “Marilyn” like the famous skirts gusting up to the sky, and a shaking our fists became a Popeye-like “Youuu!!”. It’s another way of getting involved in the movement and creating fun moments shared between the group.

We then moved on to the barre, although participants can choose to remain seated if that’s more comfortable, with some plié combinations in parallel and turned out, rond des jambes and port des bras. Although we were doing exercises from ballet practice, this wasn’t overstated – instead the focus is much more on engaging with your own movement range.

Centre practice was a brilliant Charleston-inspired routine, with rhythmically-moving feet and the option to freestyle some jazz hands!

The class always ends on coming back into a circle with the group, which I think is a brilliant idea. We continued with some Charleston feet in the circle and then in place of a traditional revérence we bowed to each other in sequence around the circle, to the right and then left. It’s a great way to all come back together at the end of class and re-establish the energy

If you want more info about getting involved, get in touch with Ballet4Life or comment below!

 

Decathlon’s sportswear pointe shoe nightmare

I was quite excited when I found out that Decathlon are now stocking dancewear on their British website. They’re known for cheap sportswear and I do like a bargain.

However I feel some kinda way about their pointe shoe…

I know that there’s nothing stopping anyone who wants to from buying pointe shoes off the internet from reputable suppliers like Bloch or even slightly dodgy-looking listings off Ebay, however the way the shoes are presented by Decathlon seems a bit…irresponsible?

First of all the blurb is all about how these shoes apparently make dancing “easier”, with “NO MORE pain (sic)” which targets a beginner audience who are likely not to have been on pointe before or know what to look for in a shoe. The review below confirms this, from someone who has bought them as their first pair of shoes. Decathlon even proclaim that “They are nnovative (sic) shoes because they’re different to those sold by the specialists”, which to me is a massive alarm bell as it seems to discourage a potential buyer from actually seeking out a pointe shoe specialist for a proper fitting. They also come in standard street shoe sizes, without width fittings, which seems completely bizarre to me. For the same or similar price (£29.99!) you would be much better off talking to a specialist to fit your shoe.

Then there’s the customer pictures…Anyone who knows and loves Pointe til you Drop like I do kind of loves to hate how fashion photographers will use pointe shoes on models in ridiculous ways, however it’s a bit different when you’re using pictures to show a product in use and encouraging people to buy it and use it in a similar fashion. I’m absolutely not knocking the people who have sent their photos in personally, however its obvious that a fair few of them are not using correct turn-out and placement, and are practicing in their pointes at home.

I’ve no idea where or how they’ve conducted their research, but apparently “73% of dancers found the Relevé pointe shoe to be more comfortable than a traditional pointe shoe.” Hmm.

All of this really pains me just because it’s so dangerous! It’s so easy to injure your feet and ankles with ill-fitting pointe shoes and the way Decathlon claims its super-easy to get up to full pointe on these shoes seems to be an invitation to try it out at home.

Love the bargain leotards, but I just don’t agree with a sportswear supplier stocking pointes made by a fitness and gym brand! Really hoping there’s no broken ankles out there.

Dressing Up

Of course I went as a ballerina for Hallowe’en! It involves minimal expense and I was making a tutu skirt anyway!

(It’s a fashion tutu, rather than a true romantic tutu, and I will post about making it soon.)

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If you’re disappointed that it’s not scary, just call it the Ghost of Fonteyn. Or Myrtha. Or Giselle when she’s DED.

Pleeeease no placement critique because I had already been drinking by this point, and it was radioactive green, and I very rarely take pictures of myself balletically speaking and as soon as the photo has been taken I criticise myself way more than you could ever hope to attempt to do, so just DON’T OK!? Ok then.

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The wonderful diva stage makeup was from a tutorial by Kathryn Morgan, who is a former soloist with NYCB and posts loads of really useful dance videos. Check out her different dance make-up looks, and her stretching routines.

I have no idea why I look so arsey in this photo.

I have no idea why I look so arsey in this photo.

Of course when I had had more of the radioactive green stuff I was teaching people how to do pirouettes and piqué turns. An educational time was had by all.