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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Heroes: Ballet Black

★★★★


Review: Heros, Ballet Black, on tour throughout the UK until November 2024. Book here.

[Disclosure: Our reviewer received free tickets, a free programme and free drinks for the purposes of this review.]

 

If At First Ballet Black Heroes

Ballet Black, the ballet company committed to diversity in classical ballet, is touring its show Heroes, throughout the UK this year.  Heroes is made up of two pieces. The first piece, If At First, is choreographed by Sophie Laplane, and the second piece, choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November, The Waiting Game.

 

For me I found the choreography of If At First, while gorgeously performed by the dancers, a bit confusing.  Laplane has said that If At First celebrates the quiet heroism of those struggling privately.  Laplane wants to honour this private heroism in contrast to the very public celebration of performative heroism, highlighted across social media platforms. Laplane has also stated that the piece is inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Eroica painting.  But other than the name Eroica I didn’t really see how Laplane’s choreography is linked to the Basquiat Eroica series.


If At First Ballet Black Heroes
If At First

Basquiat painted his series of three Eroica works as a response to the death of his close friend Andy Warhol. The Eroica series mourns the inevitability of the human condition – even for heroes.  So it wasn’t clear to me from the choreography how Basquiat’s mediations on death inspired the choreography.

 

Basquiat Eroica
Basquiat's Eroica

Laplane has incorporated crowns, as props, throughout the piece – as she states, inspired by Basquiat’s use of the crown motif  in his painting.  Basquiat does indeed use the crown motif (mostly as a symbol of power and oppression) but specifically not in his Eroica series. So how Basquiat’s use of the crown symbol ties in with Laplane’s use of it to celebrate heroism wasn’t clear to me either.


If At First Ballet Black Heroes
If At First

If At First incorporates many different and varied pieces of music, interspersed between movements of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony.  It’s an interesting choice if you want to celebrate private, non-performative heroism given that Beethoven’s symphony is the ultimate celebration of public heroism – though perhaps it’s used ironically.


If At First Ballet Black Heroes
If At First

The transition between the many different pieces was very stark - with one piece stopping and the new piece starting – with absolutely no transition.  Sometimes this jarring starkness, felt appropriate to the choreography – sometimes it didn’t. 


If At First Ballet Black Heroes
If At First

My conclusion is that to enjoy this piece, don’t read about it beforehand – just enjoy the technical expertise and grace of the dancers, who create some magical moments.


The Waiting Game Ballet Black Heroes
The Waiting Game

For me, The Waiting Game, by Mthuthuzeli November, was a much more coherent piece – originally inspired by Samuel Beckett’s exploration of the absurdity of life. November is known for his strongly narrative pieces, and this piece was an interesting and successful departure from his signature literal story telling. With clever use of props, music and beautiful choreography – November explores the futility, excitement, mundanity and uncertainty of existence.  It’s a great piece because it looks simple, beautiful and fun.  The dancers clearly enjoy dancing it too – which always adds something to the audience experience.

The Waiting Games Ballet Black Heroes
The Waiting Game

The Oxford leg of Ballet Black’s Heroes tour was a great evening out – and the tough Oxford audience turned out in droves to appreciate Ballet Black’s beautiful dancing. Whether I like a particular piece or not, Ballet Black is always doing something interesting, exciting and worth watching.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, you might enjoy reading my other review of Ballet Black's performance, my other review of shows at the Oxford Playhouse or my dance reviews.

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