Ballet Black: Captured and Red Riding Hood

Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
May 25, 2017

David Mead

Ballet Black’s Birmingham debut got off to an unfortunate start when an injury immediately pre-show, and no-one able to step in, led to the very last-minute cancellation of Michael Corder’s House of Dreams. Disappointing too that no-one stepped in front of the audience to explain to everyone in person, which always sounds and looks better; after all, it was hardly the small change to the programme the initial PA announcement suggested.

Ballet Black’s repertory is nothing if not varied and the two pieces that were danced are certainly different. In recent years Martin Lawrence has proved himself to be an excellent dance-maker with a string of hits for Richard Alston’s company, where he is associate choreographer, and others. Although his Captured sometimes falls just short of Shostakovich’s emotionally-packed String Quartet No.11 to which it’s danced, it’s yet another classy exhibition of his craft.

Like the music, Lawrance’s choreography is a suite of miniatures for four dancers. Tension or melancholy runs through each one, perhaps not surprising since Lawrance is the most musical of dance-makers and the quartet was written in memory of Shostakovich’s close friend Vasili Pyotrovich Shirinsky.

Captured is a work of cryptic and ever-shifting but tightly-knit relationships. As the dancers come together and go their own way again, there is often a sense of those associations falling apart, or at least teetering on the edge. All the time, the edgy yet elegant dance is rammed with darting moments and sleek lines. Mthuthuzeli November and Cira Robinson stood out in particular, November for his leaps, Robinson for a potent sense of emotion.

Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November in Red Riding Hood by Annabelle Lopez OchoaPhoto Bill Cooper
Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November in Red Riding Hood by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo Bill Cooper

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Red Riding Hood, a sideways and very personal take on the usual tale, is certainly a work of invention and many ideas. that sees Robinson set off initially afraid of November’s big bad wolf. Ever curious she’s soon drawn under his spell though, into the pack, and its world of sexual danger. Sadly, it’s also a rather confused affair.

Set to an eclectic mix of French songs and jazz, not all of which gel particularly well, Red Riding Hood is more vaudeville than ballet. Indeed, apart from one female duet halfway through, and a clever but all to short solo by the grandmother, I can’t help wondering why they bothered with pointe shoes at all.

The dancers tackle the choreography with enthusiasm and a sense of fun. Robinson is a delight and November’s hips can snake like no other, but Ochoa’s characterisation is far too two-dimensional for me, not remotely dark and not very amusing either (although the audience seemed pretty evenly split on that one). I also found the vocalisation of wolf howls and more tiresome and unnecessary. Apart from one or two moments, the whole thing left me cold.

Over the past 16 years, Ballet Black director Cassa Pancho and her dancers have done a grand job providing opportunities for black and Asian dancers, and for upcoming as well as established choreographers, dishing up a wide-ranging repertory along the way. Those dancers are clearly very talented, but oh how one pined here for that missing Corder, and to see them in an out and out classical work.