Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson in Will Tuckett's 'Depouillement'.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Cira Robinson and Damien Johnson in Will Tuckett’s ‘Depouillement’.
Photo © Bill Cooper

Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, UK;
February 11, 2015

Charlotte Kasner

Artistic Director Cassa Pancho deserves a lot of credit for what she has achieved with Ballet Black, Britain’s ballet company specifically for black and Asian dancers. It has improved out of all recognition over the decade and a half of its existence. Here, every single dancer looked strong technically and dramatically. Unfortunately, they did not always have the material to support them.

Kit Holder’s “To Fetch a Pail of Water” is a riff on the Jack and Jill theme. The programme notes were unintentionally hilarious, reading like a parody by Osbert Lancaster. One could almost hear Edith Sitwell reciting the lines: Why have Jack and Jill gone up the hill? Surely not to look for water?!… Interesting kinetic information – going uphill, falling down and tumbling…and a major dramatic shift at the halfway point.

What we saw on stage was more like ‘Is the relationship on, is it off?’ But who cares? For, in spite of a valiant attempt to invest the piece with dramatic tension, it failed to engage, emotionally or choreographically. The first piece of music was equally forgettable but the second execrable – a hideous pop version of Chopin that could well grace the sort of selection that is prefaced as ‘easy listening’.

Will Tuckett’s “Depouillement” made the evening worthwhile. Danced to Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello”, it produced some exciting dynamics and tricky choreography. It is the sort of work that requires more than one viewing to appreciate its intricacies fully, as the eye darts hither and thither following first this and then that movement, and possibly missing much in the meantime. Partnering was solid throughout. Although none of the dancers produced jumps or turns that wow, they are all strong, and some of the ports de bras were exquisitely fluid, arms floating agonisingly slowly into text-book-correct place with the women and creating the epitome of the beauty and perfection that is ballet from the men. This is a choreographer – and a repetiteur – who understands how to translate music into dance and project emotion across the footlights. I hope that Ballet Black gleaned as much pleasure from learning and performing it as the audience must from seeing it.

'Second Coming'.  Photo © Bill Cooper

‘Second Coming’.
Photo © Bill Cooper

And then there was Mark Bruce’s “Second Coming”. I just hope that the first one was better. This was a tawdry, sub-burlesque piece which often made one cringe. The choreography ranged from capering around in silly devil horns and tails to hula hooping. Capering was about the highest level that it reached, but perhaps that is to do a disservice to goats. By far the worst aspect of this woeful work was Bruce’s totally inappropriate use of music. He explains in the programme that using “classical” (he means Romantic and contemporary) music was a challenge. What we got was a ghastly mish-mash of ill-matched pieces, in ripped and bleeding chunks, including the desecration of Elgar’s “Cello Concerto”. Someone should also have explained that sound levels do not need to be cranked up to deafening.

All round, I enjoyed keeping up with this company and current dancers, but could have done with a lot more like Tuckett to challenge them and us.