REVIEW: Ballet Black at Cambridge Arts Theatre is inspirational and beautiful ballet to make your heart sing

PUBLISHED: 23:18 07 May 2019

The Ballet Black Company. Photography: Mthuthuzeli November.

The Ballet Black Company. Photography: Mthuthuzeli November.

Mthuthuzeli November.

Ballet Black's triple bill includes a dance inspired by a miners' strike in South Africa in 1946 - literally a piece de resistance.

Ballet Black uses classical techniques to create vibrant, modern dances. Humour, rhythm and emotion tell stories to make you smile and to reach the soul.

They dance in pointe shoes, they dance in wellingtons. They dance to moving music played on violins, they move to silence. The dance equivalent of a cappella.

The company's latest show, a triple bill, opens with Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrance in 2009. Danced by Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November, this dynamic piece of beautiful shapes and exquisite lifts starts with a background of silence and then is joined by a rhythm like a heart beat.

This is followed by Click! a fun quartet of dances choreographed by Sophie Laplane. Wearing brightly coloured suits of yellow, rose red, pink and blue, this is dancing with a sense of amusement. But here there are also contrasts. The Snap of Your Fingers, danced to the 1962 song by the Mudlarks is light-hearted. The interlude called Away is a more lyrical, moving piece, evoking a love affair.

But the piece de resistance, danced in the second half was historically just that.

Ingoma, commissioned by the Barbican and choreographed by November, with a chorus of singing by members of the company, was inspired by a strike of South African miners in 1946.

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This was on the eve of apartheid formally being made law and is noted as the beginning of the anti-apartheid movement.

At the opening, we see the dancers dressed as miners. They are wearing vests and trousers and wellington boots and have axes strapped around their waists. As the house lights go down, the lamps on their helmets throw beams reminiscent of search lights.

Some 60,000 miners took part in that strike but this small cast evokes the humanity of it. Or the inhumanity of it. In a brutal repression, nine people were killed and 1,248 injured by the police.

The piece opens with the miners toiling. We see them emptying sacks of coal which you think you can smell. But it centres on the effect on their families. A husband and wife (Jose Alves and Sayaka Ichikawa) dance a heart-wrenching duet full of love and fear. Then solos by Isabela Coracy and Jose Alves are a call to arms.

Later, in a solo danced by Sayaka Ichikawa, we see inconsolable grief. She dances in a circle, the others sitting still around her, some staring ahead in resignation, others heads bowed or with expressions of anguish. They bring to you the realisation that for hundreds of years, for weary centuries on end, there were warm, thinking, clever people, like people we know today, who could not own their lives.

This is ballet that is so imaginative, fresh and alive, I would encourage people who think they don't like dance to go and see it. People who do love dance won't need any encouragement. They will adore it all the more.

Ballet Black is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Wednesday, May 8 and then The Derby Theatre, May 14, Dance Xchange Birmingham, May 23 and 24, King's Theatre, Edinburgh June 8 and Linbury Theatre Opera House, June 13-15.

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