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Dance Review Brilliance at the double from Ballet Black

The Suit + A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream
Theatre Royal Stratford East/Touring    

CATHY MARSTON’S inventive choreography informs the assured storytelling of Can Themba’s South African story The Suit. The first of Ballet Black’s excellent double bill, it's set to music by the Kronos Quartet.

No sooner has Philemon gone to work than his wife Matilda is joined in bed by her lover Simon. But Philemon catches them in the throes of love-making on returning for his briefcase and Simon escapes virtually naked, leaving his suit behind.

Philemon takes revenge by insisting that Matilda treat Simon’s suit as their honoured guest at all times and, with her repeated entreaties for forgiveness cruelly refused, Matilda is doomed to relentless humiliation by the suit’s constant presence in their domestic and social lives.

In despair, she hangs herself. Philemon’s punishment is the realisation that his refusal to accept Matilda’s remorse has lost him her love.

In a production combining modern dance and mime, the supporting dancers drive the plot by silently “commenting” and reacting to the narrative like a Greek chorus. The dancers' defined, often geometric shapes, echo the clever use of multipurpose rectilinear props, while the swirling costumes and rhythmic South African popular dances evoke 1950s township culture and provide relief from the story’s emotional intensity.

Arthur Pita’s choreography and production of A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream is pure, magical zaniness. Witty, fast-paced and subversive, it's full of surprises.

The opening stately duets, danced in traditional ballet costumes to Handel’s Sarabande, are rudely interrupted by Isabela Coracy’s ungainly Puck. In scoutmaster’s uniform and a hefty green beard, she charges around causing chaos, while two cheeky, doll-like ballerinas crouch down in tutus and point shoes, erotically snapping open their legs as in a peep show.

Two male dancers’ athletic feats attempt to impress an impassive Helena (Sayaka Ichikawa), who promptly outshines them with sparkling pirouettes before tottering off with her female lover Hermia, while Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November as Titania and Bottom sway to Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in a perfect embodiment of romantic love.

It's a production which typifies what Ballet Black is all about. Founded to provide roles for black and Asian dancers, it blends traditional ballet’s exacting discipline and contemporary dance’s inventiveness with virtuosity and elegance.

Don’t miss.

Tours until November 29, details: balletblack.co.uk. 

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