To Fetch a Pail of Water / Dépouillement / Second Coming

Choreography by Kit Holder, Will Tuckett, Mark Bruce
Ballet Black
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
to

Ballet Black serves a delicious, mouth-watering triple course of dance, two world premières: Kit Holder’s (for fourteen years a dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet) ten-minute aperitif To Fetch a Pail of Water and Mark Bruce’s thirty-five-minute blowout, Second Coming, the wraparound for Will Tuckett’s neo-classical sorbet cool 2009 Dépouillement.

Music is the key to all three. Holder’s choice of Chris Clark’s electronica contrasting with Ray Conniff’s romantic Improvisation on Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat defines the pre-anticipation and post-initiation of physical love.

Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye, she in plaid skirt, he in plaid shirt (costumes Rebecca Hayes), rapt in and wrapped around each other, he on the ground, she in the air, dance a reverie and climax of young love. What did Jack and Jill go up that hill for, hmm?

Tuckett’s Dépouillement is a revelation. Not the Tuckett of Wind in the Willows: this is one for the adults. A Balanchinean exploration of Ravel’s impressionistic 1920/22 Sonata for Violin and Cello in C-major: see the music; hear the dance. Dedicated to Debussy, one can hear his influence.

In four movements—allegro, très vif, lent, vif—Tuckett deploys his six dancers in what Stravinsky called ‘the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers’ mode. In elegant pas de six, de quatre, de trois and de deux, in jazzy male duet, and dreamy andante he gives form to its expression and progression.

Fractured and smooth, in competitive attack and introspection, in intricately detailed calligraphic choreography Tuckett pares down to essentials. Dépouillement suggests a stripping back, a whittling down, ‘an economy of means’.

No condescension towards a small-scale troupe, he demands the highest standard and gets it. Dressed in Yukiko Tsumoto’s stark black and white leotards, Cira Robinson leads with Damien Johnson, their central duet mirrored by the other two couples, José Alves, Isabela Coracy, long-limbed Christopher Renfrum and Marie Astrid Mence.

Mark Bruce’s (winner this year of three National Dance Awards) takes WB Yeats’s apocalyptic poem Second Coming and combines it fancifully with Yeats’s interest in the occult. The Second Coming is not Christ but anti-Christ.

His musical compilation ranges far and wide: Tom Waits’s ‘Kurt Weill’ Weimar cabaret sounds, Mark Lanegan’s grunge rock, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Waltz, Claude Debussy’s Syrinx flute solo, the adagio moderato from Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E-minor tell you all you need to know.

A narrative that Bruce explains in the programme notes, but it’s a narrative that one can read quite well, though what one reads depends on one’s own references and input, as always. David Plater’s lighting guides the way.

Damien Johnson in feathered top hat and tail, in gold-braided military jacket, with Kanika Carr as his angel demon assistant (I love her little wings—costumes by Dorothee Brodück) and a carnivalesque band of travelling players guide and entice dead souls to the underworld.

And there’s a wonderful masked devil’s ball—to Shostakovich’s popular swirling music. Has Bruce borrowed from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita? Or Robert Johnson’s devil’s Crossroad? Or El Amor Brujo? I see and sense them all. Even some of his father Christopher’s work.

Slide guitar and popular waltz, red-shoed women and devil horns headbands, wooden swords and hula-hoops, Second Coming is a rich meal, its flavours mingling, at times hard to identify and digest—not sure about that lion’s head on the man returning from the desert—but one that Ballet Black’s eight dancers dish up with gusto.

The Devil has the best tunes, but does he always win—true love transcends death whatever the temptation. Contemporary soft shoes and moves mixing with classical on pointes, Bruce weaves a drama that spells it out: You Only Live Twice, and ends in a fun party.

A company of black and Asian classically trained dancers Ballet Black was founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho to plug the gap—needs must—to give a home to dancers excluded from a pigment patrolled world.

In fourteen years, little has changed. One reads that Precious Adams, now with the English National Ballet, was asked to bleach her skin when at the Bolshoi ballet school. Michaela de Prince also spoke out recently about the dearth of black dancers in classical ballet.

In 2012 Ballet Black won the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Independent Company. Long may they reign, supremely.

Reviewer: Vera Liber