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

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.

STRICTLY

DA DA DA DA DA DA DAAAA

I just want to point you in the direction of the excellent dance writer and lovely lady VIKKI’s Strictly blog…

http://londondance.com/articles/features/strictly-with-vikki-oct-2014/

For those of you not resident in Great Britain, Strictly Come Dancing is Dancing with the Stars, but a trillion times better because DARCEY BUSSELL is on it. YES.

Here she is just dancing a show dance, because she can:

Daria at the Stage Door

I’m just settling in at home after the ENB’s Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall. I’ll reflect more thoughtfully on the production later but I’d just like to say that Daria Klimentova is incredibly gracious to fans at the stage door, after dancing miles around that huge arena of a stage and obviously wanting to get home with her husband. She had her pointe shoes for a particular fan, and a smile and a good word for everyone. It was quite a heart-hammering moment for me to have her make eye contact with me and quite genuinely and interestedly listen whilst I thanked her for her performance and got her autograph. Her Juliet was complex, and moved me to tears.

Dancing and Posing

I did some life modelling the other day. It’s something I’ve done for a little while, although usually in a traditional art classroom set-up. This time it was in a “salon” set-up, with a bar, and really nice friendly atmosphere. I actually got to see the pieces that everyone produced! Normally the easels are facing away from me and then the art is whisked away and no-one speaks to the model. But seeing people’s art on their knees or the floor as they worked and then chatting afterwards was really lovely.

I was thinking about how dance training helps me whilst I was holding my poses – my core strength has improved so much and really helps to keep as still as possible for the long poses. I pretended I was in the corps de ballet and had to hold my beautiful pose on stage, ha! I’ve also got a much better understanding of my own strength – at one point I was holding a very heavy (real) horse’s skull, and I had to figure out just for how long and what extension I could hold it. I even attempted a bit of a cambré back for one pose! A few artists asked if I was a dancer, as apparently I was holding my feet in demi-pointe an awful lot.

Here’s a particularly lovely piece produced with ink – you can also see some more pics on my twitter feed.  Do click around on twitter, and definitely follow @ArtMacabreLDN for more gothic fantasy life-drawing – and come along to a salon if you’re in the area!

 

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On the Guardian website today – a beautiful photo gallery of Ingrid Bugge’s new work The Essence of Ballet. You can also read Judith Mackrell’s article on Bugge and how she works, particular using digital technology.

To me, the images seem to capture something about the ephemerality of performance. The delicacy of the images seems to acknowledge that they are fleeting, that the photographer has captured something magical and evanescent.