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Ballet Black review at Barbican Theatre, London – ‘lively, likeable’

Sayaka Ichikawa and Cira Robinson in Ballet Black's Storyville at Barbican, London. Photo: Bill Cooper Sayaka Ichikawa and Cira Robinson in Ballet Black's Storyville at Barbican, London. Photo: Bill Cooper
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The highlight of the latest triple bill from Ballet Black is a re-staging of Christopher Hampson’s 2012 work, Storyville. The piece relates the story of Nola, an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into the world of New Orleans’ former red-light district. Against the backdrop of an early 1900s dancehall Nola’s transition from impressionable girl to a broken, drunken inhabitant of Storyville is touching and believable, despite the rapidity of her fall from grace.

Hampson’s updated work develops the character of Lulu, allowing her to flourish. Mirroring Nola’s fate, she flits between two men in a flirtatious portrayal of how she fell for the ‘bad guy’, a sequence in accordance with the amusing song lyrics that accompany it.

While Storyville’s quick transitions and sudden conclusions in no way distract from the simple enjoyment of watching the piece, Arthur Pita’s Cristaux and Christopher Marney’s To Begin, Begin are less coherent.

The costumes of Cristaux are spectacular, yet the piece doesn’t sparkle as much as the Swarovski-crusted tutu. Pita’s choreography feels plain in comparison to the incessant, intricate rhythms of Steve Reich’s tinkling score. The two dancers skip and bouree, their steps adorned by complex port de bras, but their movements appear stiff and uncomfortable.

A large sheet of blue silk is the centrepiece of Marney’s graceful, dreamlike work but, for the majority, is used as little more than a transition between scenes – only towards the end does it become entwined briefly in a duet.

Though this is a decidedly mixed triple bill, Ballet Black is a company with personality, and this shines through most in Hampson’s narrative work.

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Mixed triple bill from a lively, likeable company, with Christopher Hampson’s Storyville making a strong return