Dance with commitment from Ballet Black as they celebrate their 20th anniversary

Barbican Theatre, London
March 26, 2022

In Say it Loud, a dancer asks, “Why Ballet Black?” Greg Maqoma’s Black Sun provides the answer. I doubt there’s another company in the UK who could deliver his work with such authenticity. Black Sun hovers on the interface between the spirit and the real world. While dance is no stranger to fantasy, this departure buries deep into the interior of the dancers making each journey a highly personal and individual exploration. Each of the eight dancers worked with absolute commitment searching out ancestral traces and rhythms.

Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November
in Black Sun by Gregory Maqoma
Photo Bill Cooper

It’s a loosely structured work, where individuals are moved to offer a solo, an intimate expression in a moment of personal need, dancing in a manner that, at times, seems almost improvised. Maqoma’s style is contemporary African with the accent firmly on African in this piece. The movement engages the whole body finding immediate engagement with the emotions.

As the drums build in volume, Robinson is surrounded and reacts to the beat as though they were body blows. Isabela Coracy finds her moment, bathed in the golden light like a goddess. The intensity rises to fever pitch in a moment of religious ecstasy so potent it seems to hypnotise both cast and audience. It’s a powerful work, given a powerful interpretation.

The dancers from a wide variety of training backgrounds, were impressive in the manner they found stylistic unity. Their talents extend to drumming as a set of gleaming silver drums are played with fierce intensity led by Mthuthuzeli November dancing magnificently in a style close to his roots.

In a world akin to Dante’s Inferno, Cira Robinson bourrées recklessly, buffeted by unruly forces. Bodies shape shift in the darkness sculpted by David Plater’s innovative lighting. There are confrontations and conflicts and at times it is difficult to differentiate between the spirits and the living.

Say it Loud is a mix ’n match with no less than eleven choreographers listed and Artistic Director, Cassa Pancho, credited with concept and direction. The men are well featured and seem to get the best of the choreography, notably Ebony Thomas dancing fiercely bathed in interesting lighting effects. The women go for a more balletic tone and José Alves and Cira Robinson, company stalwarts, who can always be relied on to deliver the goods, respond with a pas de deux. Coracy, possibly needed choreography that offers more scope for her exceptional presence, but November did well with a cool and edgy number.

The dialogue seems superfluous not offering any more than could be said in dance. However, the lively ensemble climax closed the work on a happy note.

This is Ballet Black’s twentieth anniversary and balancing Maqoma’s work with another that challenged this plucky company’s technical ability might have made a stronger statement about its value on the dance scene.

Ballet Black continues on tour. Visit for dates, venues and booking links.