Ballet Black and BalletBoyz — small businesses with big impact

Ballet Black and BalletBoyz are two small companies that have always punched above their weight, regularly commissioning work from leading British choreographers. Both have impressive and eminently revivable back catalogs and could easily afford to rest on their laurels for a while, but both presented two new release projects during their UK tours in London last weekend .

Ballet Black celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and marks the anniversary with Say it out loud, a seven-part set by founding artistic director Cassa Pancho, her first choreographic endeavor in two decades. Performed at the Barbican, it sketches the company’s history and philosophy to a patchwork soundtrack by Pancho (with additional songwriting by Michael “Mikey J” Asante) that uses everything from Steve Reich (Music for pieces of wood) to Trinidadian calypso songwriter Lord Kitchener. The piece is preceded by a sound collage of reactions to the idea of ​​an all-black ballet troupe culled from social media – “If you ask me, that’s reverse racism”; “Black people want Bob Marley, not ballet” – and tackles the insulting (often liberal) assumption that business should focus on the downsides of the black experience: “Why don’t you make ballets about slavery?

Pancho can put together sequences quite nicely, but the writing sometimes seems banal. The dancers take turns to display their classical references with lots of whipped, dashing steps and a general air of Why Walk When You Can Bourrée? David Plater’s lighting is abundant (always a pleasant surprise) if a little too assertive. Gobos – those fancy filters that draw light in pretty ground patterns – are all great in their place, but you can have too many good things.

Black Sun, by South African dancer Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, is set to a punchy Asante score and photogenically dressed by Natalie Pryce. The program notes speak of “the need to be united in this fight against human degradation”, but this does not appear in the stages. Maqoma’s use of peak work feels contrived despite strong performances from Cira Robinson and Sayaka Ichikawa.

★★★☆☆

On tour until June 22 balletblack.fr

BalletBoyz in “Ripple” by Xie Xin © BalletBoyz

BalletBoyz’ Luxury The program reached Sadler’s Wells last week with two London premieres, each preceded by a ‘making of’ short – a company trademark. In Ripple by Chinese dancer Xie Xin, the company takes on a slightly monkish air with Katherine Watt’s shapeless tunics and split skirts in faded tones of blue, brick and greige. The eight men bend double in a strange cowering rotation, only to emerge from the ground as if twisted by hidden wires, ebbing and flowing hypnotically downward. woosh from Jiang Shaofeng’s soundtrack.

Maxine Doyle’s grip Bradley 4:18, inspired by a poem by Kae Tempest, retraces the state of mind of a man wandering the streets in the early morning. Each of the six booted and dressed dancers embodies a facet of Bradley’s personality: bored; confused; violent; solitary. Doyle takes the shrugs, nods and ticks of everyday male body language and turns them into choreography, making the ordinary extraordinary. Cassie Kinoshi’s jazz soundtrack, composed while the dancers rehearsed, achieves a kind of cracked ultralounge, a perfect fit for Bradley’s millennial malaise.

★★★★☆

On tour until May 19 balletboyz.com

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