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Flash Review, 4-2: Revolution
Bach to Basics with Ballet Black

Ballet Black's Chantelle Gotobad in Henri Oguike's Da Gamba. Bill Cooper photo courtesy Ballet Black.

By Victoria Watts
Copyright 2010 Victoria Watts

LONDON -- Henri Oguike's "Da Gamba," one of four chamber ballets Cassa Pancho's Ballet Black premiered last week at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre, offered many of the hallmarks of Oguike's work for modern dancers. Set to a recording of J.S. Bach's Solo Cello Suite in D Minor by Yo-Yo Ma, it featured elbows and hips initiating movements that shift unexpectedly through the body and out into space, curvilinear gestures interspersed with direct spoking of arms and legs, and whipped accents spitting out of languorous arches and extensions, all layered onto the foundations of ballet technique. Motifs and phrases developed across the two main sections of the dance, and it was particularly satisfying to see the main pas de deux take different directions for two different couples. Just as I was expecting a direct recapitulation of the duet I'd just seen, the second couple changed the partnering, altered the inflection of the phrasing, returned to the theme and then branched off again. There was some sass and some humor, particularly in a section of cheeky head turns between the dancers in otherwise still moments of pas de deux. These 'are you looking at me? I'm not looking at you' interactions elicited audible laughter. And yet, this was all standard fare -- intelligent and diverting, but predictable. By contrast, the up tempo sections in which Oguike gave the dancers a bubbling stream of hoe-down legs and feet were enticing. I wanted to see more, to see where this version of terre a terre could go, and how the dipping 'yee-haw' arms might change and grow on top of the heel digs, toe taps, quick weight shifts with splayed ankles and knocked knees.

Ballet Black's Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi in Henri Oguike's "Da Gamba." Bill Cooper photo courtesy Ballet Black.

Ballet Black's ballet master Raymond Chai contributed the next work, "And Thereafter...." In spite of Chai's sensitivity to his dancers' aptitudes this choreography fails to make an impression, upstaged as it is entirely by David Plater's exquisite lighting design. A hazy ball of yellow light dissipates across the grey blue of the cyclorama. A young man is silhouetted against this early morning Winter sky, and all seems calm and ready. Chai does himself no favors in his choice of music. The first movement of Arvo Part's "Spiegel Im Spiegel" seques into the second movement of Bach's Concerto for Violin, Strings and Continuo in A Minor, with the addition of vocals by Bobby McFerrin. No disrespect to Mr. McFerrin ? whose music I normally enjoy -- but this recording sounded bizarrely like a mash up of Bacharach and Bach. The third and final section mystifies me: there's the echo of a post-apocalyptic wind and the light is as bleak as a nuclear Winter. After the exuberant classical dancing of the previous sections, one man remains on stage, the light dimming while the others walk off, twitching.

Ronald Hylton's "Human Revolution" was an electrostatic duet for Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss, both of whom excelled in the urban ballet fusion. Hylton also composed the music, which reminded me of the soundtrack of a bad club scene in almost every movie starring Michael Douglas. Surprising as this may seem, I don't mean that in a bad way. The work was most successful when the long lines of ballet training collided with the pop, lock, and grind of hip-hop. Voss, downstage, facing the audience, splayed open with one leg forward and his arms stretching up and back, jolts like jelly. Robinson, upstage, punches out rhythmic scats with shoulder and ribs, all the while moving fluidly through a more conventional phrase of ballet.

The final work of the night, Christopher Hampson's "Sextet," left me with the most enduring pleasure and the rare urge to watch a work again, and again, and again. Hampson's six snapshot sections to Paul Hindemith's Kammermusik were clean, honest, impeccably crafted, and pitched to provide just enough challenge to the dancers without ever letting them look as though they were struggling. They rose to the technical demands, particularly Damien Johnson in a brief solo in section two, composed almost entirely of batterie. The middle section, subtitled "Lovers," showed phases of a relationship. On each tiny triangle ting, the couple kisses. Jade Hale-Christofi's first contact of lips to Robinson's neck comes as a surprise. I felt Robinson's faint shake of pleasure on my own skin. It is so simple. It is performed with such sweet intimacy. Perfection.

Ballet Black's Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss in Robert Hylton's "Human Revolution." Bill Cooper photo courtesy Ballet Black

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