To mark Ballet Black‘s 18th season, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho presents an exciting triple bill: a restoration of Pendulum, first performed ten years ago; Click!, a playful work choreographed by Sophie Laplane; and finally the exquisite Ingoma, created by Ballet Black’s very own Mthuthuzeli November, the first company member commissioned to create the main stage ballet.
In Pendulum, dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November oscillate through suspension and powerful shifts of movement. Set to Steve Reich’s rumbling score, the short duet swings between moments of combat and intimacy, as Ichikawa and November circle one another and then launch into fleshy phrases. The duo move with exact precision: clean lines and perfect fouettés. This, combined with rippling shoulders and sumptuously deep lunges, demonstrates Ballet Black’s skill and ability to hybridise dance forms.
Click!, Laplane’s episodic exploration of the gestural meanings of clicking the fingers, is both groovy and tender. With the dancers dressed in bright suits and lit with coloured spotlights, Click! has a distinctly 80s feel to it. While Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence’s duet is playful and cartoon-like, José Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet is wrought with tender embraces. They cling to one another, pushing their foreheads together as they shift through moments of contact; they’re a couple that just ‘click’ together.
The highlight of the night, Ingoma, starts slowly. The dancers tread about a dark stage in wellies, hoisting rope over their shoulders and tipping buckets of dirt onto the floor. A huddled conversation and the dimming of the lights marks the beginning of a turbulent and powerful narrative.
Choreographed by November, the piece delves into the loss and pain precipitated by the 1940s South African miners’ strike, where over 1200 workers were injured and at least 9 killed. Ingoma has relentless energy that propels the dancers through the movement. Even in moments of quiet and stillness, there’s a driving rhythm that bubbles beneath the surface. Ichikawa’s portrayal of a woman who’s lost her partner to the strikes is captivating.
A fist pumping motif used by the company develops from a powerful symbol of resistance to an image of the strained protests of a grief-stricken woman who’s lost her loved-one. Ingoma demonstrates not only the individual physicality of each dancer, but their strength as an assembly. The company move as one beast, sweeping across the shadowy space, pick-axes above their heads and fists held high.
While Pancho is triumphant in her objective of opening ballet up to black and ethnic minority dancers by creating an entire troupe of BAME role models, it seems her aim of making Ballet Black obsolete is still far off. Last year, ENB came under criticism for splashing images of first artist Precious Adams across their marketing campaign for Swan Lake, despite Adams not being cast as a principle for the production. Tokenism? You decide.
For now, regardless of whether or not Ballet Black becomes redundant, there will certainly still be a place for the company’s artistic talent and distinctive repertory.