THE RECENT Queer Art exhibition at Tate Britain in London pays a much-needed tribute to Jamaican dancer and choreographer Berto Pasuka, who founded Les Ballet Negres in 1946.
Not only the first company in Britain to be composed of black dancers, it was also the first to offer what fellow dancer Richie Riley later described as “in every shape and form, ballet in a black idiom.”
That descriptor could equally be applied to Ballet Black. Founded 16 years ago, it aims to bring ballet to a more culturally diverse audience by celebrating black and Asian dancers and, in the triple bill now touring the country, this vision affirms itself as an inseparable part of the British ballet scene.
The company, strong in technique and emotional versatility and expression, are fierce and moving as each piece demands. A hugely entertaining evening starts with the enthralling duet Dopamine (you make my levels go silly), choreographed by Ludovic Ondiviela, with both Ebony Thomas and Mbulelo Ndabeni holding the audience captive in scenes of intimacy and delight in a shifting onstage love story.
Martin Lawrence’s Captured follows, a beautiful to-and-fro of four dancers, moving from duets to trios, set to the heart-stopping music of Shostakovich.
The bill concludes with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Red Riding Hood, where the whole company are in stunning form. Ochoa’s unique movement language is leaving its mark in the ballet world and this funny, sexy twist on the well-loved fairy tale makes an indelible impression, with Cira Robinson a powerful lead holding the ensemble together.
The company sees its goal as bringing about a fundamental change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies, “making Ballet Black wonderfully unnecessary” and that conversation about race, diversity and ballet in Britain has a long way to go.
But, as the great US choreographer Martha Graham said, “the body says what words cannot” and Ballet Black’s inspiring work speaks volumes.
Not to be missed.
Touring until November 11, details: balletblack.co.uk