Ballet Black’s repertoire is always pleasingly broad in scope, bolstered by bold and wholeheartedly daring choreography. Their latest double bill juxtaposes Cathy Marston’s The Suit, a dark narrative dance piece, with Arthur Pita’s enchanting pastiche, A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Suit follows Philomen (José Alves), his wife Matilda (Cira Robinson) and her lover Simon (Mthuthuzeli November). Philomen catches Matilda in bed with Simon; Simon flees, leaving behind his suit. Philomen forces Matilda to treat the suit as their guest, even going so far as to make her take the suit on a Sunday walk with them, to her intense humiliation. In the end, driven mad by guilt and misery, Matilda kills herself, and Philomen is left with the suit.
The story is remarkably cruel and steeped in a melodrama that could so easily bumble off into a messy crash, but superb performances from Robinson and Alves keep the narrative train on the tracks right up to the last. Robertson is especially compelling – the sleek lines of her arms reach into desperate stretches; her duets with Alves are locked up with a tense, expressive exactitude. The Suit is an attractive piece with remarkably evocative choreography.
It is A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though, that had me repeatedly reaching out and excitably squeezing my companion’s hand. Arthur Pita’s playful, joyous, hilarious and unashamedly queer love letter to the world of Shakespeare’s fairies is also a teasing sext to the benchmarks of ballet.
Opening with a rigid, classical ensemble piece set to Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ – which sees three partnered couples moving with an almost aggressive professionalism through simultaneous duets – A Dream is quickly interrupted by Puck (Isabela Coracy), swaggering on in a Boy Scout’s uniform and a neon green beard. Puck proceeds to hypnotise the six dancers – Titania, Oberon, Demetrius, Hermia, Lysander and Helena – into a hysterical half-conscious conga. From there, things only get wilder, and the couples are split asunder.
Lysander (Ebony Thomas) and Demetrius (November) shimmy-shake for Helena’s (Sayaka Ichikawa) attention, trying to out he-man one another in a ridiculous showboat party piece set to ‘Malambo Part 1’, but Helena ultimately runs off with Hermia (Marie Astrid Mence). The two women performing a twinkling duet that frees their hips, legs and head from the commanding shapes of classical ballet.
Ebony Thomas’s Lysander really comes into his own when Oberon (José Alves) falls for him, and the pair wind their sensuous way through a languid, tender duet that has them entangled. Coming after so many giggly set pieces, the duet is a sudden change in tone, but so fluid and generous is this short ballet, the swing round to sensuality works. The only ‘classical’ couple left are Titania and her partner, who is, of course, Bottom, and so a donkey.
Pita’s musical choices are delightful, ranging from Eartha Kitt to Jeff Buckley to Antony & the Johnsons. It somehow encapsulates, in its myriad and surprising choices, the sense of a soundtrack to a night out – one of those nights which start at seven in the evening and finish at dawn the next day, an entire rainbow of emotions radiating through it, an anthology of stories taking place over the few hours it lasts. Watching A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream is simply a happy experience.
Ballet Black performed at the Barbican from 15 – 17 March 2018. Click here for more details.