A giant crystal is suspended above the stage. A female dancer enters, her square cut Swavorski clustered tutu sparkling as she bourrées; small, shimmering steps.
Cristaux by Arthur Pita, the opening duet of Ballet Black’s latest triple bill, is visually stunning. Beneath the crystal its two dancers skip and bourée across the stage, their steps adorned by intricate port de bras that ripple and flutter then shift through sudden angles. They are accompanied by the trilling tones of Steve Reich’s score, a complex pattern of shrill, tinkling notes that have a sound like shards of glass clashing against one another.
On the surface this work sparkles, but there’s a heavy, uncomfortable feel to its steps. The choreography feels plain, the partner work simple and stiffly performed. In some moments it seems almost purposeful, a stylistic choice to reflect the sharp, crystal-like imagery, but the choreography isn’t quite angular enough for this to feel completely intentional. When a second crystal drops, swinging dramatically across the stage, its presence almost overpowers the dancers below it.
Christopher Marney’s To Begin, Begin is less intriguing than Pita’s Cristaux, but feels more cohesive. The piece revolves around three couples. While their stories may not be clear, the relationships they portray appear gentle and loving, their movement fluid and connected. We move through a series of fleeting pas de deuxs where the dancers swirl in each other’s embrace, shifting effortlessly into lifts. A large sheet of blue silk is the centrepiece of this work but for the majority of the piece it is used for little more than a transition between scenes, dancers appearing and disappearing from beneath its folds. At times it almost seems superfluous, a shimmering sheet carried on and off. Only towards the end does it become incorporated in a duet, its silky caresses for brief moments entwined in the dancers’ movements. It’s an effect that adds to the graceful, dreamlike feel of this work, and an idea that could have been made more of.
Both Pita and Marney are choreographers Ballet Black have previously collaborated with and for the third and final piece of their latest bill they choose to continue this theme with a restaging of Christopher Hampson’s 2012 work for the company, Storyville.
It relates the story of Nola, an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into the not so salubrious world of Storyville, a former red-light district of New Orleans. Nola soon ends up in the hands of a seductive ‘Madame’, Lulu White, and her associate, Mack; two domineering characters who engineer her fate against the backdrop of an early 1900s dancehall. The soundtrack, encompassing music hall, sultry French songs and a suite from Threepenny Opera, builds a sense of the era in which this work is set, while a series of signs, paraded across the stage as in a silent movie, mark the passing of time though this fast-paced narrative.
The characterisation in Hampson’s work is one of the strengths of this piece – Nola’s transition from impressionable girl to a broken, drunken inhabitant of Storyville is believable, despite the rapidity of her fall from grace. In a scene that mirrors her inevitable fate, Lulu flits between two men in a flirtatious portrayal of how she fell for the ‘bad guy’, a sequence perfectly in accordance with the comical song lyrics that accompany it.
Despite Storyville’s quick transitions the story Hampson’s movement relates is easily understood and the sudden conclusions it sometimes draws don’t distract from the simple enjoyment of watching this piece. It’s a work that suits the charming, lively spirit of Ballet Black and its return is the highlight of this rather mixed triple bill.
This triple bill was performed by Ballet Black. Click here for more information on the company.