Review: Ballet Black in breathtaking form at Northampton show

A previous production by Ballet Black. Picture: Bill Cooper
A previous production by Ballet Black. Picture: Bill Cooper

Lily Canter reviews Ballet Black at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Dancing with a raw intensity Ballet Black took to the stage at Royal and Derngate this week to premiere two stunning works as part of a breathtaking triple bill.

Celebrating its 18th year, the company, which celebrates dancers of black and Asian descent, continues to mesmerise audiences with it witty, inventive and intellectual style.

The programme opened with Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrance and first performed in 2009.

The intense duet began on a stark black stage, with no music as the male and female dancers made light work of an intimate and strenuous courtship.

Slowly a thumping beat reverberated around the theatre, accelerating into an urgent alarm seemingly mimicking the duo’s quickening heart rates as they worked themselves into a frenzy.

Powerful, athletic and unusual, it is easy to understand why this modern piece of storytelling still impresses after ten years.

Following a short interval Ballet Black shifted into a lighter gear with a jazzy, colourful five piece ensemble.

Featuring dancers dressed in vibrant yellow, purple and red suits the original work by Scottish Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Sophie Laplane, started with a striking nod to pop music videos conjuring up fond memories of Madonna’s Vogue.

The work then eased into a playful duet as two young lovers frolicked to 1960s America rock, with some Charleston moves thrown in for good measure.

This was followed by a passionate and sensual interaction between two mature lovers before leaping back into a tapping and snapping dance beat.

What followed was something entirely different with the premiere of the Barbican co-commission Ingoma created by Mthuthuzeli November.

The fusion of ballet, African dance and singing portrayed the struggles of black miners and their families in 1946 when 60,000 people took strike action.

The atmospheric dance was supported by a soundtrack of emotive strings and rumbling bass creating a heightened sense of danger and distress.

An inescapable sense of grief and exhaustion seeped from the welly-clad dancers as they depicted the gruelling hardship faced by South African miners. At times difficult to watch it was awe-inspiring nonetheless.

For me, the lasting memory of Ballet Black is one of unique, powerful storytelling performed by remarkable dancers, with the strength and agility of world-class athletes. No wonder there was a standing ovation.

* Ballet Black is now on tour across the UK. Visit balletblack.co.uk for details.