Formed in response to a gaping void for black and mixed race dancers and tutors in classical British ballet, Ballet Black is comprised of such and creates its own pieces inspired by themes including World War Two and the American state of Hawaii. It is a surprisingly small collective, with just eight dancers, and offers an alternative to the traditional pink tutus.
The Guide spoke to world-renowned artistic director and founder of the national (and increasingly international) touring group, Cassa Pancho MBE, about the burgeoning success of the company, their upcoming Bracknell performance and how she feels about creating one of the most important company's to make an impact on the global dancing stage since plies began.
"We're just ballet, nothing else, first and foremost. But hopefully by doing what we do we are making a big deal, inspiring young kids and appealing to a new generation. The overwhelming reception has been positive. There are of course people who hear the name and think there is a political hidden meaning, but there really isn't. I started it when I left school and came up with the name when I was 20. People who feel like that come and see us and realise it's not about exclusion, it's about focusing and creating role models." Of the South Hill Park show, Cassa says: "It's probably, at the risk of offending previous years, the best one we've done so it's a really good time to come to a new venue. Split into two halves, there are three abstract ballets, completely different styles, costumes, music etc.A Hawaiian theme, a barbershop quartet, an electronic sound. We then have, for the second half, a brilliant new narrative ballet called War Letters. It's based on World War Two. It's an episodic narrative but not one long story, five short stories that cover things that could happen."
Eight dancers make up Ballet Black, each picked for their artistic merit and dedication to the discipline. Cassa told us: "I look for the best dancers, the ones that will get what we are doing.
"There are only eight of us, so everyone has to cover all bases. It is a lot of hard work but there is huge creative reward as it's all on them, they have input at every stage. Often people go to a big company and there are so many dancers, it's difficult to give a chance to everyone. Here you are one of eight."
A former dancer who started the group in 2001 after a back injury, Cassa was made an MBE in The Queen's New Year Honours this year, and said: "It was completely unexpected and surreal and I think more of a reflection on the whole company. You can't give it to a group so they gave it to me on my own."
Ballet Black performs at South Hill Park on Sunday, April 21, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £18.50, concessions available, from www.southhillpark.org.uk or by calling 01344 484123.