Ballet Black – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

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Since this show is sold out, I’m not going to do too thorough a review, even though I took fairly extensive notes – either you’ve got tickets or you can’t get them, and my review won’t affect what you do. (Note that due to demand, an extra Saturday matinee has been added, so perhaps tickets might still be available – check with the Royal Opera House ticket office. Actually, I checked, and they’re available as of Thursday afternoon, so if you want to see them, jump on it!)

Sadly, the choreography tonight was mostly fair to middlin’ and the dancers were …. not impressive. I thought maybe they were not hitting things in the first piece because it was new to their repertoire, but later it became clear there was a lot of missing going on – legs not able to go equally high (and a general lack of unison when it was called for), sloppy handling of partners (“Don’t drop her!”), a clumsiness on pointe (I realized that usually I am focused on a dancer’s face when she is tiptoeing toward me, but tonight, I could tell her mind was on her feet, and I watched them instead) – just a not-entirely polished group. I actually wound up watching the male dancers in hope of getting more satisfaction from their performances (I usually prefer to watch the women as they get more exciting movement), and while I was really impressed with, say, Jaime Rodney’s extension, Darrius Grey’s partner work (again, for example) was just not inspired. On the other hand, Stephanie Williams had great stage presence – though I think in her heart she wants to be doing solos and not ensemble work.

The first piece, “Indigo Children,” was a new number by Liam Scarlet, done to a nice medlyl of Phillip Glass pieces. But the movement wasn’t particularly compelling – I found myself longing for the originality of Wayne Macgregor and the mind bending complexity of Jiri Kylian. I was also disturbed by the poor execution – at one point one of the dancers was being lifted overhead by two men and they about dropped her. Okay, more clearly, one of the men had a very poor hold on her hips, and I felt very uncomfortable about her safety as I watched him fumbling around to get a better hold. She was a trooper and didn’t act like she noticed a thing, but I would have been tempted to kick him. Again, I ascribe a bit of this to this being a new work, but as I said to my partner, I felt as if I were watching a dress rehearsal of a piece that was still being workshopped.

I know ballet is hard, but tonight I could really see it – and I go to see ballet so I can go “Wow!” not “Ow!” The third piece, “Somente,” set to Rodrigo y Gabriela’s guitar version of “Juan Loco” and “Stairway to Heaven” was the highlight for me, but there was just a certain playfulness it lacked – in a bit where the male dancer swirls the ballerina over his shoulders (in a circle) and bounces her off the round and then repeats the movement, she should have just gone “Boing!” but instead it was a really heavy movement. I had been thinking the problem with the first piece was that choreographer Liam Scarlett was just not experienced enough to make a really compelling piece, but after seeing this one, I became convinced the problems were about execution rather than the inherent interest of the choreography.

The final piece was “Walk Through a Storm,” by Richard Alston and thus no excuses for the choreography. This seemed like the kind of thing that would normally be done as a throwaway before a full-length piece, or as a fun bit during a night of short works, but the dancers just didn’t give it the life it needed. In a bit in which the three women stood flat on one foot with their legs raised behind them, I saw a dancer struggling noticeably to make a turn in this position, and they weren’t doing well at keeping their legs raised and level. I admit I have no idea just how you move yourself in this position, but the three women should have been in tight, effortless unison, and they were decidedly not. And somehow it seemed like the group had lost the “plot” of the dance and were just getting through it, when I expected that with an audience they would have been aiming for one hundred and ten percent and being totally focused!

Overall, I left feeling extremely dissatisfied – it was all rather like attending a dress rehearsal instead of the final production. Ah well. At least it was short, and maybe the company will improve over time. I was and am very excited about seeing this group of mostly American performers on stage together, and I would like to see them performing at the level of Dance Theater of Harlem.

(This review is for a performance that took place Wednesday, April 9, 2008.)

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7 Responses to “Ballet Black – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House”

  1. Darrius Gray Says:

    Sorry you were very dissappointed in the hard work we put into this show but on a contrary as the oldest member of the company I feel that these performances were a really good learning experience for the younger dancers as well as for myself. I agree some thing weren’t in unison, there were timing issues, and some some nerves here and there but the overall performance I felt pleased alot of people.

  2. Ballet Dude Says:

    Indeed might I also say that the show seemed to please perhaps 99.9% of the audience. I think there were 1 or 2 out of 2,000 who weren’t so impressed so I’ll take those odds any day. Perhaps they’ll leave some room for the many that missed out on tickets this year!

    The post above sounds more like comments from a disgruntled ex-partner than a review of something the audience and major reviewers thought was a great and varied program from a gifted and ever improving company.

    The Stage: “..a company with an astonishing amalgamation of strength and elegance that befits his work…”

    The Guardian: “Decades on, the six members of Ballet Black (all from black or Asian backgrounds) may still face a dispiritingly white scene. But this small, determined company no longer requires special marketing for its repertory. On the contrary the latest programme features some of the most original new ballets to be shown this season.”

    The Times: “It’s an impressive accomplishment for a troupe on such limited resources.”

    The few people that have read the above opening blog post have commented to me that they really don’t feel bothered about commenting on something that simply was not a reflection of this companies great performance. This is not a comment by a group of avid supporters, but the overall consensus from many of those who were seeing the company for the first time.

    Well done to Ballet Black and also might I say well done to Darius Gray whose partnering skills are considered the best in the company and whose partners felt nothing but secure and safe at all times. It really makes me wonder how someone else feels they can read minds of the dancers during a performance.

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    I’ll quote two less favorable sentences to support my complaint that the performance was not up to snuff, also from the “major reviewers.”

    From The Guardian: “he pushes hard against the limits of Ballet Black’s collective technique”

    From The Times: “the dancers need to grow into the technical demands of her slicing phrases”

    So even though the reviewers above had nice things to say about the company, they also had problems with the performance from a technical perspective. I expected a quality of dance similar to other shows I’d seen in the Linbury and at Sadler’s Wells, and that expectation was not met, pure and simple.

  4. Belinda Says:

    What is the point of you trying to tarnish a dancers and company’s dreams and hopes of becoming more successful? Ok so you didn’t like it, thats fine. Could you please erase this page.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Being critiqued is what happens when you perform publicly. Whether music, dance or theater, when you put yourself out in front of the eyes of others, you have to live with the fact that not everyone is going to like what you are doing. Your attempt to silence a critical review shows a poor understanding of how performance arts work. Do you write similar letters to the Guardian, the Independent, and other publications asking them to “remove” negative reviews? Indeed, as I am only a tiny blog voice, it’s silly for you to act as if I even have the power of ruining someone’s dreams via my writings. They have the power to improve. This post is the mark of my view of a performance that took place over a year ago and you want to delete a historical record of that performance? Do you think the only history that should be recorded is a positive one? Do you think that a performer will ever improve if they only hear that they’re wonderful because no one wants to “ruin their dreams” and make them work harder? Indeed, my hope would be that the members of this troupe would work harder and continue to improve their technique. I’d like to see them all be greatly successful, but from what I saw last year they still generally had a long way to go, and it was absolutely fair for me to call them on this.

  5. Belinda Says:

    I MUST disagree with you COW lady. This Review was probably the worst you’ve ever written. You obviously have never been a dancer before because a true artist of any sort is driven by a higher purpose before commiting to criticism. The review and I’ve read most of your “so called” work is and excuse my French “Horse SHIT. I was actually at one of the performances For Ballet Black that year and we loved it! Yeah a couple of mishaps but overall a lovely performance.

    I understand as a former dancer that young company’s must read the criticism in hopes to make improvements but your review here doesn’t even support your claim. Furthermore, you failed to mention the highly regarded reviews in “Dance Europe” and “Pointe Magazine,” reviews that people actually care to read. This blog doesn’t say most the choreography was new and innovative-Nothing at all positive… Maybe you just had a bad day that day, No clue.

    You should be ashamed.

  6. webcowgirl Says:

    It just wasn’t a good performance, that’s all there is to it. Your standards must be different – perhaps you watch more student shows than I do. Ballet-wise I try to see the very best companies possible, so my standards are quite high. I do hope that the overall quality of each one of the dancers will continue to improve and that they will ultimately go on to success, but that doesn’t change the fact that the performance I saw on this night was not a good night of ballet.

    As to my not mentioning the other reviews, why don’t you link to them?

    Finally, I assume you are friends or perhaps a relative with a member of the cast? Normally the only people who get this aggressive and angry are people who have something personal vested in the performance and can’t stand to hear negative feedback on it. Both Mr. Gray (above) and Wayne MacGregor (elsewhere in my blog) have taken my criticism with far better aplomb, and they were personally involved in what I reviewed. I can only assume a relationship with a cast member as the actual professionals involved with the works I pay to see manage to keep their cool much better than you have!

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