Review: Ballet Black in Mixed Bill at Linbury Studio

Performance: 25 & 26 Feb 09
Reviewed by Katie Fish - Monday 2 March 2009

Ballet Black, 25-28 Feb, Linbury Studio. Photo: Bill Cooper

Ballet Black’s impressive programme of new work began with Adam Scarlett’s Hinterland, set to Shostakovich’s unadorned score. Like the music, Scarlett’s choreography is also clean and self-contained, though that is not to say simple, and it is all the more engaging for its purity. It begins quick and jaunty – the dancers lightly crossing the space with pas de basque type steps – to then evolve into something slower and gentler, for example when the male dancers parade the females in poised arabesques.

The linearity of the movement is well suited to the company’s clean-cut technique, and shows both their physicality and grace to advantage. One recurrent motif has the females on pointe, arms extended in a high V, suddenly striking the space with their presence. Another involves the dancers stepping to and fro as if playing with the ebb and flow of Shostakovich’s piano excerpts. This complementary liaison between score and music is retained until the final duet is danced to the last of the whispering keys.

The inspiration for Martin Lawrence’s *Pendulum*, the only work not made for the whole company, is revealed by the work’s title; a duet that oscillates between the parallels of tension and passion, need and independence. The pair interweave over and under each other, Cira Robinson bending low with arms outstretched as Hugo Côrtes promenades with his leg extended above her. Steve Reich’s Pendulum sounds like a dulled heart-beat, repetitive and regular like the highs and lows of any relationship. The choreography is full of such contrasts; jumps are wide and low but performed with arms raised skywards; concave back bends become convex, pointed feet become flexed. Robinson and Côrtes simultaneously perform a series of pirouettes with legs shifting from extended to retiré, as if in private competition. They stare intently into one another’s eyes as if reading innermost thoughts or desires, executing slow rond de jambe movements, arms encircling empty space. Moments later, Robinson wraps herself around Côrtes’ back, needy and child-like before he clasps hold of her hands as she arabesques, leaning away from him, wanting him but not wanting him. A true 21st century couple.

Antonia Francheschi’s Kinderszenzen is translated as childhood scenes, and this is the title of the score by Allen Shawn. The springy, plucky music is met with light skipping-like steps as partners are interchanged and shifting formations made. A male trio fill the stage with fast barrel-type jumps before balancing on one leg, the other bent in attitude and arms lifted high. A female threesome then dance a playful enchainment embossed with shunting hips, fleeting side-steps and flexed elbows and feet. Although Kinderszenen exudes an aura of tranquillity, Francheschi also takes risks with the choreography such as when a female dancer trusts that she will be caught by her partner as she takes a low arabesque lunge, or later when she is held upside down with legs à la seconde by her partner as he takes a deep plié. Both the score, which, in turn, is inspired by Schumann’s Kinderszenzen, and the choreography appear deceptively simple, but there is also a sense that, like childhood itself, a more complex set of rules is at hand.

The mixed bill closes not with a grand work of virtuosity or spectacle, but rather with Will Tuckett’s Depouillement or ‘economy of means’, inspired by Maurice Ravel’s interest in counterpoint and minimalism. It begins with four dancers encircling dancer Chantelle Gotobed , who faces each in turn, as if giving each a cue to start. If Tuckett’s choreography is pared-down, it remains impressive; the females balancing elegantly on their partners’ shoulders as a soloist jetés and whips around them, high extensions executed on pointe, and low, melting lunges and counter-balances. And the end scene, in which the six dancers strike balances on various levels, creates a lasting image that completes an evening of wholly satisfying dance.

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