Despite its small size and modest funding, Ballet Black is a textbook case of how to run a dance troupe. Founder and director Casa Pancho has a strong sense of artistic priorities, hiring able choreographers while avoiding expensive costumes and sets. In this, the company’s eleventh year, she has commissioned no less than four new works, from Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan Watkins, Rambert dancer Jonathan Goddard, Richard Alston dancer Martin Lawrance, and Scottish Ballet’s new artistic director Christopher Hampson. It’s an impressive list, and they have created for Ballet Black exactly the kind of small-scale low-key pieces that show the dancers at their best.
Cira Robinson (Nola) and Damien Johnson (The Lover) in Storyville by Ballet Black at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The first half of the programme comprised three works, Together Alone by Watkins, Running Silent by Goddard, and Captured by Lawrance. The first is a duet for Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss, the second a solo for Kanika Carr and the last a quartet for Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson, Joseph Poulton and Cira Robinson. These three were essentially plotless ballets, depicting mood and emotions rather than narrative. That changed in Hampson’s narrative piece Storyville which depicts early 20th century New Orleans and the city’s red light district.
All four works were concise and performed with an enthusiasm that puts some better-funded companies to shame. The only downside is that the first three works are somewhat similar in mood, so the performance lacked something of the variety of previous Ballet Black programmes.