Thursday, October 6

Ballet Black – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

After their hugely successful first visit to the Scottish capital in 2019, Ballet Black is finally back after their postponed 2020 show. This time, the London-based company is celebrating its 20th anniversary with two brand new pieces: Say It Out Loud and Black Sun.

As I type this review, I notice the nail polish I am wearing – a blush pink tone- which is unoriginally called ballet slippers. This helps illustrate the fact that ballet is inherently white. The lack of diversity within ballet dancers and the struggle racialized performers face in the industry led Cassa Pancho, a trained dancer of Trinidadian and British parents, to fund Ballet Black in 2001 as a company to provide role models to young, aspiring black and Asian dancers.

Over the course of these 20 years, Ballet Black has produced over 50 different ballets created by 37 different choreographers, proving that no two ballets are the same. In this occasion, Pancho herself is the creative mind behind Say It Loud, a piece aimed to celebrate the past and present of the company. 

Say It Loud is an exploration of genres and the limits of ballet, which are constantly reformulated and pushed to a transformative state. Creating a blend of styles and forms that illustrate the uniqueness and diversity of the cast, the piece is loosely divided into seven chapters, with a music repertoire that ranges from African and Caribbean Rhythms to Etta James and urban beats. A voiceover recites a collection of social media comments, reviews and discussions throughout the ballet. These comments- both negative and positive- guide the audience across the trajectory of the company and the controversies and difficulties it faced over the years.

Ballet Black advocates to give the opportunity to simply express themselves and dance without the constant expectations that every piece must be about pain and suffering. The tone of the pieces fluctuates from contrived and solemn, to explosive and joyful: a celebration of diversity and uniqueness.

Say It Loud, which worked efficiently as a taster, was followed by the totemic Black Sun. This piece, choreographed by prolific performer Gregory Maqoma with music composed by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante is intended as a work that “draws energy from the sun and the moon, giving rise to descendants of ancestors”.

Black Sun felt like a shamanistic experience as powerful as the drums in the score. Animalistic but sophisticated in equal parts, it allows the dancers to express themselves by offering a space in which they could bring their distinctive backgrounds, stories, and heritage. The use of light – featuring gold and purple hues- turned the stage into a no-place but a descent deep down into the belly of the Earth. The strong use of percussion work as a heartbeat that guides performers to reconnect with the soil which is emphasized using the pointe technique characteristic of ballet, which can be interpreted as a tool to dig deeper in the ground: in this case both physically and metaphorically.

Ballet Black has established itself as one of the most promising companies in the UK. After having attended their last show, I can see how this success is more than justified. These 20 years are only a reminder of the passion and effort that go behind every show they put together.   my hope is that in the next 20 years, the collective mind does not hold ballet slippers as nude pink anymore.

Ballet Black are currently on tour until June 2022, https://balletblack.co.uk/performances/

Reviewer: Nazaret Ranea

Reviewed: 4th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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