Tuesday, October 3

Ballet Black: Pioneers – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

For over two decades Ballet Black has nurtured their small plot in the vast landscape of ballet. Grafting together innovation and passion, building on their bouquet of diversity to represent crucial change for the benefit of their art. The company continues to lay stones along the path of intelligence and meaningful entertainment with Ballet Black: Pioneers. This show is by, about and thanks to pioneers.

The opening act, Then and Now, set on a minimalist background against which each dancer takes their turn to showcase technique and talent while collectively giving body to the poetry of Adrienne Rich from her collection, Dark Fields of the Republic. The minimalism drives your focus to the life on stage, where the tightrope of dance, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s violin and Rich’s words balance each other to inspire self-reflection. As ideas of literature and reflection shift, touching upon the harsh and the sweet aspects of our existence, the choreography follows faithfully the spoken dynamic.

Nina: By Whatever Means, the definitive highlight of the night, brings back to life an icon of jazz music and a companion to the company’s commitment to advancement as one of the famous activists of her time. In the more theatrical bio-ballet choregraphed by one of Ballet Black’s lead dancers, Mthuthuzeli November, the piece flashes through the life of Nina Simone leading to the revelation that fighting in defence of her beliefs saved the musician from the despairs of both private and professional life. Only two songs from the artist herself, Mood Indigo and Sinnerman, as well as a handful of her speeches formed the backdrop of her story. The rest of the score was specifically crafted for this performance by composer Mandisi Dyantyis alongside November, perhaps inspired by the intention of giving light to aspects of the singer’s life that, unlike the fruit of her art, to many are less familiar.

The deep connection between Ms Simone and the artists of Ballet Black is apparent even before the show starts, delivered through a hidden gem: a collection of letters lovingly addressed to the female musician. The dancers individually pour out their admiration, gratitude, regret, and celebration of the gift that is Nina Simone. On stage, as the story of her life progresses, Nina is portrayed by four dancers. The most captivating performance, delivered by the magnificent Isabela Coracy, closes the show with a surreal segment where portrayal melts into reality bringing the entire auditorium together in a moment of musical euphoria through an arrangement of applause to accompany the performance.

Words can take us many places but, at the same time, they can only fully reach a handful of us at once. Dance carries empathy without the need for further translation, especially when it speaks of universal pain. This wholesome experience of translations into a form of primal communication for an inclusive insight into lessons on the intensity of life and beauty of courage, carries the portrait of Ballet Black and is the perfect food to feed the complexities within all of us.

Reviewer: Nazaret Ranea

Reviewed: 28th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.