Triple Bill: Dopamine, (You make my levels go silly) / Captured / Red Riding Hood

Choreography by Ludovic Ondiviela, Martin Lawrance and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Ballet Black

Theatre Royal, Stratford East

From 08 November 2017 to 11 November 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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This is a sparkling programme from Ballet Black that is now touring. It opens with Ludovic Ondiviela’s Dopamine danced to Fabio D’andrea’s Perpetuum by Cira Robinson and José Alves. Like the other ballets on the bill, it is danced against black with the air misted and beautifully lit by David Plater.

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain, a neurotransmitter that among other things helps make you feel good. That’s certainly what this delightful short ballet did for me. Is it a boy and a girl accidently catching sight of each other or is this a Pygmalion situation and at first she’s just an idea in his mind’s eye? José Alves rippling arms seem to be conjuring Cira Robinson into life. He follows her responses with increasing pleasure, seems to be encouraging her to fly. Soon she is not following his lead by truly dancing together and she’s happy while he has a smile that lights up his face and he’s in love with her.

Capture isn’t so simple. It is danced to a string quartet by Shostakovich, matched to the mood of each of its seven movements. What starts with Mthuthuzeli November reaching out slowly to Marie Astrid Mence becomes fast turns. There is an intricate partnering full of tension that is echoed in Shostakovich’s raw strings.

Another man enters, Ebony Thomas; is he about to come between the first pair? He is followed by his partner, Isabela Coracy. There is arrogance here rather than tension, disdain even. Is there some outside threat forcing interaction despite the hostilities present. Eyes carry an intensity even greater than Martin Lawrance’s taut mix of modern and classical dance. It compels attention.

Red Riding Hood uses a mixture of popular music, mainly French songs. It is based on the fairytale but an Angela Carter-style version, not one aimed at the little ones but taking its cue from a more Freudian decoding of it.

Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa begins it with the wolves already waiting, their shiny black rears challengingly rotating, affronting the audience, Sayaka Ichikawa’s Little Red Riding Hood hidden behind them. This isn’t a peasant or a woodcutter’s daughter despite the traditional garment. This Red Riding Hood has a smart middle class mum and, though the wolves do abduct granny, she doesn’t get eaten. She’s there less for the story than to provide a lovely comic performance from José Alves: in a grey wig and a dress and, an old lady almost on pointe, he’s delightful.

The Wolf is Mthuthuzeli November, sexily dangerous, his tail elongated into a rope that is not used for skipping but more lasso-like for snaring girls that catch his fancy. If you’ve got it, flaunt it they used to say and November certainly does so. So do some of the ladies that he encounters. Red has a neat little yellow tulip to take care of on her way through the wolf's wood to grandma’s: these women wave bunches of big yellow blooms. Like the wolves, they are all part of Red Riding Hood’s rite of passage to womanhood.

While mother and grandma set up the parameters of proper behaviour with some symbolic framing, once among the purple balloons that designer Yann Seabra presents as the wild wood, such proprieties are forgotten. But this isn’t a wolf to be frightened of; the audience love him and who wouldn’t? To cap things, Mthuthuzeli gets a gyrating crutch coda after the company calls. He (and his choreographer) has earned it. The house did not want to let him go. This is serious at heart but great fun and great dancing.

The tour continues to Derby, Leeds and Portsmouth. Catch it if you can. You won't be disappointed.