Now eleven years old, Ballet Black has a confidence and spark. Initially founded to promote black dancers in classical ballet, the company has become an end in itself. This is a taut evening of new work by rising and established choreographers, fluently staged and danced.
The main event, Christopher Hampson’s Storyville, is a mixed bag, with some stylish dancing and very predictable plotting. Hampson, a British choreographer who has spent much of his career abroad, becomes director of Scottish Ballet this summer. With Storyville, he uses a small cast to evoke a period and place, the New Orleans red light district in 1915.
To a selection of music by Kurt Weill, he briskly introduces Nola, a waif-like heroine danced by Cira Robinson. Showgirls strut on with painted signs, naming time, place and characters. Hampson’s choreography for them has a jazzy neoclassical swagger. His best choreography is for dancehall madam Lulu White, danced by Sarah Kundi, partnered by Jazmon Voss as the pimp Mack.
In Nola’s nightmares, Mack and Lulu White appear as a tormenting voodoo king and queen, with effective skull masks by Gary Harris and sharply-cut steps. Back in reality, they dance a sidling tango with aggressive kicks and flicks.
Nola herself is a standard- issue doomed balletic whore, torn between White’s influence and her well-meaning lover (Damien Johnson). Robinson dances with fresh energy, diving into the lifts and falls of a desperate pas de deux with Johnson, but there are no surprises in her story.
Before the interval, three short dances show off Ballet Black’s range. Together, Alone, by Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan Watkins, is a duet full of complicity. Kundi and Voss dance side by side, sharing steps or going their own way. As Alex Baranowski’s music turns jazzy, there’s a sudden mooch in the dancers’ swung shoulders. At last, they turn to face each other, dancing slower steps with a new sense of connection.
Kanika Carr dances Running Silent, a solo by Rambert dancer Jonathan Goddard, with swinging freedom of movement. Captured, by Martin Lawrance, is an edgy number for two couples. Cira Robinson and Joseph Poulton dance an overlapping duet – his solo becomes a unison number, becoming her solo. There’s a sense of confrontation when Sayaka Ichikawa enters, joined by Damien Johnson.
Lawrance responds to the sudden swipes of the Shostakovich string quartet, springy little jumps and fleet footwork. Ballet Black’s dancers are assured and polished throughout.
Until 7 March. Box office 020 7304 4000. Touring until 19 June. www.balletblack.co.uk