In Spotlight On, we take a closer look at a company, artist or venue that excites us here at Theatre Bubble.
Ballet Black is an award-winning, neoclassical ballet company dedicated to diversifying classical ballet. The company was formed in 2001 by Cassa Pancho, with the purpose of providing dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in ballet. The company has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards for Outstanding Company (2009) and Best Independent Company (2012).
The company also performs and offers community driven classes for dancers and students, young and old. In 2002 Pancho opened the Ballet Black School for young children in Shepherd’s Bush, and the Ballet Black Associate Programme for teenage and professional dancers. Since then, the Associate Programme grew to 250 members in 2010.
Ballet Black, however, survives without any state subsidy. I spoke to founder and artistic director Cassa Pancho about diversity within the industry and Ballet Black’s current work – Triple Bill, a triptych of critically acclaimed dance pieces.
Triple Bill performs at Theatre Royal Stratford East from the 6th – 8th October, and then tours to Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds and beyond until the 18th November. Full tour dates can be found here.
Theatre Bubble: Is diversity still a problem in mainstream ballet?
Cassa Pancho: I don’t see it as a problem – it is a work in progress. I believe it is also an opportunity to learn how to create better access to ballet. I firmly believe that you need to see someone who is reflective of you in the field that you are passionate about whether that is the arts, sports, science, music – whatever interests you! A dearth of black and Asian role models at the top of their field in classical ballet means that younger children may not realise that ballet is for everyone – not just as a professional career, but as a fantastic hobby by partaking in ballet classes or as an audience member going to see shows.
TB: What have been the highlights of Ballet Black’s history as a company so far?
CP: We’ve had lots over our 16 years: our first ever performance that sold out, the formation and growth of the BB Junior School in Shepherd’s Bush which is incredibly diverse, winning a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Company and another for Best Independent Company and our debuts at the Royal Opera House and more recently the Barbican. Also, being the subject of a South Bank show very recently was extremely exciting for all of us at BB. The biggest highlight is the changing landscape of classical ballet and a definite increase in professional dancers of black descent.
TB: Where next for Ballet Black? (probably more details on the Triple Bill here)
CP: We’re currently touring our brilliant Triple Bill which featured three pieces made specially for Ballet Black: Cristaux by award-winning choreographer, Arthur Pita, an incredible and physically challenging pas de deux with costumes that are supported by (and dripping with) Swarovski crystals. To Begin, Begin a very beautiful ballet for six dancers created by Christopher Marney to music by film composer, Dustin O’Halloran. Our evening ends with Storyville by Christopher Hampson, the tale of a young girl from New Orleans who goes to the big city to realise her dreams but things go very awry! It has romance, drama, comedy and tragedy and our audiences love it.
Tickets for Triple Bill at Theatre Royal Stratford East are available here.