Every little girl grew up mesmerised by the ballerina. Whether she was the tiny figure dancing on top of a music box, or our teacher in the first class mum took us to at the local village hall; we all looked up to her with shiny admiration, secretly hoping we would have a prima ballerina inside us too.
The ballerina encompasses a graceful ideal of femininity, and for me growing up Darcey Bussel was always my hero. Sadly, it became evident pretty quickly that with my appalling turn out, inflexible limbs and shallow demi plies I was never going to be accepted by the Royal Ballet. I stoically got over it, moved on, and became fixed upon becoming an archeologist for a few years (sadly that was never meant to be either). But I could never shake my love of ballet, and ever since then have fuelled my passion through being a member of the audience, rather than being on stage (cue pitying violin music).
My whole concept of the ballet industry was shaken up a few weeks ago, when I heard a company called Black Ballet was hitting Exeter. They were created as an outlet for the talents of black and asian dancers who were typically neglected by classical companies, which made me look upon the whole industry in a new light. It was true, I had never seen a black ballerina before. My interest piqued, I convinced a couple of Penthouse ladies to bag some tickets with me to see what it was all about.
“Our ultimate goal is to see a fundamental change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies, making Ballet Black wonderfully unnecessary.”
It was all very exciting, not only because this was my first experience of ever sitting front row (keen beans that we were), but because of the beautiful stories that unfolded before us, through the graceful but powerful movements of the dancers. Based on letters found on the battlefields of world war two, War Letters didn’t consist of a linear narrative, but followed many narratives of separation, change, love, loss and trauma.
The production was a wonderful mix of contemporary moves coupled with traditional ballet, and was a testament to the beauty and power the human body is capable of.
This experience was completely different to any previous ballet shows I have seen. Ballet is cut throat, and is discriminatory based on genetics, not just between races but within races. If you don’t have the natural body for it, you will never make it big, no matter how good you are. Even if you have the best tours chaînés déboulés, you’ll never be a principle dancer if you’re over 5 ft 7″. Therefore, from a technical point of view, this was a different experience because of the different body types of the Black and Asian dancers. The movements were much more powerful and athletic, it was all sinews and muscles, and there was a stronger equality between the strength of movement between the male and female dancers.
I’d recommend Black Ballet to any dance enthusiast, or to anyone who is looking to do something different on a midweek night than Orange Wednesdays. They tour around the country, to find out more on their current shows check out their website here.
photo credits: http://balletblack.co.uk/