Ballet Black, Barbican, London, review: This uneven triple bill fails to realise the potential of talented, charismatic dancers

Performed by the ballet company comprising international dancers of black and Asian descent, the new production includes Micheal Corder's 'House of Dreams', Martin Lawrance's  'Captured'  and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 'Red Riding Hood' 

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As a small ensemble established in 2001 to celebrate dancers of black and Asian descent, Ballet Black have built an impressive legacy of new choreographic commissions while successfully fostering an enthusiastic and culturally diverse following. But this uneven triple-bill fails to realise the potential of talented, charismatic dancers. 

In House of Dreams pastel-coloured leotards and short romantic tutus reinforce feminine movements and classical vocabulary as Sayaka Ichikawa and Marie Astrid Mence twirl and pose politely across the stage while their male partners’ spring and gallop in trousers that look like foil sweet wrappers. Created by established choreographer Michael Corder House of Dreams is an exercise in balletic form, its true emptiness hidden by dainty veneer. Recordings of Debussy’s familiar piano preludes reinforce the impression we are watching music box dancers rotating without purpose.  

Where House of Dreams fails to find meaning in movement, the revival of Captured by Martin Lawrance allows the urgent dissonance of Shostakovich’s String Quartet in F Minor to surge through the dancers’ bodies, combining classical and contemporary vocabularies. Across a darkly-lit stage, the mood shifts from melancholy to tense, aggressive sexuality. In sequined jackets two couples embrace and repel each other in a dark elegiac tango while curling contractions echo the piercing strains of the violin. José Alves’ muscular grace is particularly moving, both earthy and tender. 

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s new work Little Red Riding Hood utilises the symbolism of adolescent sexual awakening to create a heroine that resists victimhood and embraces defiance. Expressively danced by Cira Robinson, Ochoa’s choreography emphasises Red Riding Hood as a curious explorer. Primly holding her handbag as though a chastity-belt, she is drawn away from the safety of her mother’s house towards the city, sexual temptation and the Big Bad Wolf. As the wolf, Mthuthuzeli November’s scene-stealing performance descends, at times, into pantomime style comedy; he revels in attention, baiting and teasing the audience. Yann Seabra’s designs and David Plater’s lighting direction are crucial: silhouetted shadows, a luminescent moon and forests of helium balloons combine with a medley of French songs and sounds of playing children to create a powerful sense of nostalgia in this joyful piece. 

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