Cassa Pancho founded Ballet Black in 2001 to provide both opportunities and role models for black and Asian dancers in the UK. She was not the only one to see the gap; in recent years, there have been increasing efforts to encourage children from ethnic minorities into ballet.
When, in 1991, the Royal Ballet needed black role models for its Chance to Dance scheme, it had to import them from Dance Theatre of Harlem. These days, the Cuban Carlos Acosta - who is also Ballet Black's patron - is one of the Royal's biggest stars. Change happens slowly, because dancers start training so young, and the number of black British children going in for ballet training is still low, but Britain's ballet companies are becoming more diverse.
With just six dancers, Pancho has chosen to focus on new choreography, with four pieces made or reworked for these members of her company. Yet I kept thinking of good dance-school performances, in which tailored works show off the dancers' charm, their energy, aspects of their technique - but it's usually the older pieces from established repertory that reveal the performers' real quality.
The opening Taniec, by Raymond Chai, is a perky trio, going from formal dances to gentle flirting. Richard Glover teases and flirts with Chantelle Gotobed, bouncing up and down with enthusiasm. The third member of the trio, Hugo Cortes, has a muscular elegance and bold movement that doesn't break the courtly-academic style of the piece. Chai's steps are pretty enough, but they hardly seem to stretch Cortes.
Bawren Tavaziva's Umdlalo kaSisi, created for the Place Prize, has been revised for this company. The dancers mourn in drooping poses, or celebrate in huddled groups. Tavaziva's generic steps lack bite.
Antonia Franceschi's Shift, Trip... Catch, revived from last year, mixes Vivaldi with a new score by cellist Zoë Martlew, who plays live. Wearing gauze tunics over white underwear, the cast pose like statues of muses. Then, without the gauze, they strut and shimmy.
Hinterland, by the young Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett, is a series of classical dances to music from a Shostakovich piano trio. Scarlett's steps are attractive, though rather too polite for the rough edges of this music.
Throughout this programme, the Ballet Black dancers look lively and assured. The men are particularly strong, their jumps light and springy, their movements flowing easily. The whole company has an air of confidence and good humour. But I'd like to see these dancers in something more exposing, in ballets that told me more about them.
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