Ballet Black, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 15th March 2009.
A stunning evening of ballet that mixed contemporary with traditional, this was dance that made me miss dancing, forgetting about the pain and the darning of pointe shoes. The show opened with ‘Hinterland’, choreographed by Liam Scarlett. It was dazzling, exciting, colourful, playful, and made excellent use of the six dancers. As a company, these six seem to be very comfortable together, able to dance was exuberantly and to project their joy of movement to the audience. Scarlett’s dance was bursting with life and fun, and remained witty without becoming trite, vibrant while remaining effortless. The Fosse-like close choric movement was brilliantly done without becoming a pastiche, and the breakout moves back into the whirlwind dance were fantastically effective. Shostakovich’s lively and exhilarating piano music was the perfect accompaniment, without ever distracting from the dance.
The second piece, ‘Pendulum’, was a combative duet, by Martin Lawrance. Every movement had beautiful tension, pride and passion. The accompanying percussive static gradually became faster and louder, and the dancers were equal to it and bigger than it. They fought both each other and the music, occasionally teetering on the edge of violence. The piece was raw and edgy, which a wonderful sense of gathering momentum and the crescendo to the climax did not disappoint.
‘Kinderszenen’ by Antonia Franceschi was my least favourite piece, but I’m finding it difficult to put my finger on exactly why. The steps were accomplished, the dancers poised, polished and athletic, but somehow the disparate elements failed to make a convincing whole. The playfulness of the dance came across well, helped by Allen Shawn’s light-hearted music, but despite some lovely moments, (especially the sudden stillness), it failed to capture me. It grew on me as it went on and each of the separate parts was nice, but there was too much going on onstage, too much fuss. I acknowledge that working with six dancers is tricky, but there was no sense of cohesion in this piece, and the many entrances and exits distracted from the dance. It must be said that even the most graceful dancer cannot make balletic running look less silly than it is.
The final piece, ‘Depouillement’, by Will Tuckett, was a stunning end to the evening. The brilliant, monochromatic ensemble work made excellent use of the whole company. I loved the fluidity and democracy of the dancers, and the pairings, trios, quartets, solos and quintets they mixed and matched within the six of them. Particularly striking were the moments when the three male dancers moved in tight unison, the use of two couples contrasted with a single figure, and the use of wonderful clean lines. Tuckett has made it seem as though Ravel’s music has been written to fit the steps, rather than the other way around. I can think of no higher compliment to pay to a choreographer. A tender and more traditional pas de deux made a nice break in the piece, but the passion and beauty of whole was in the sheer joy emanating from the whole ensemble. I knew the dancers were tired, but wanted them to continue. I was actually breathless at the end, never mind the dancers themselves.
David Plater’s lighting was the perfect accompaniment, enhancing the dancers, especially when they were silhouetted. I don’t normally notice lighting specifically, but this was so clever, so subtle, and so right for the performance, that it deserved a mention. I was less keen on the costumes, which seemed unnecessarily twee given the raw energy and talent of the dance and the dancers, but they were at least designed so that the lines of the bodies were clear. The fact that all six dancers were stunningly beautiful helped, too. Here is a company of hugely talented dancers working with choreographers who will push them and develop the savage beauty of ballet.