Tag Archives: Ballet Black

Win Guide to May

Welcome to May, one and all.  Here’s our guide to what’s on in Winchester this month:

For photography fans, look no further than the Discovery Centre for the opportunity to view this year’s finalists for the Winchester Photographic Societies Annual Exhibition, at the City Space.  The event is free and donations are welcome.  The event is open until the 7 May, Monday – Sunday and times are available here.

The beautiful Ballet Black will be performing a Triple Bill at the Theatre Royal, 3 May.  Now in its 16th year, Ballet Black’s company of British and international dancers of black and Asian descent has been delighting a new generation of dance fans with its “dash, daring and joie de vivre” ( The Guardian). This is a company not to miss.

Sparsholt College, Countryside Day, 21st May, 2016

Sparsholt College will be hosting their annual Countryside day, 13-14 May.  The Taste of Hampshire Food Festival will run alongside the Countryside day stalls, rides, animal displays and live music.  The medal winning Horticulture Team will present a mock build of their entry to the 2017 RHS Chelsea Flower Show – an exciting opportunity to see this wonderful garden ahead of the prestigious show. Parking is available onsite, disabled access and an early bird discount.  For more details and to find out about booking tickets, visit here.

Little people might be interested in visiting the Theatre Royal to see David Walliams’ ‘The First Hippo on the Moon’. The production has been adapted for the stage by acclaimed award winning theatre company Les Petits, sister company to Les Enfants Terribles so this should be a real treat for young space and theatre fans.  Tickets and times are available a the Theatre’s website here and the show is running between 25 – 28 May.

For adult theatre fans, don’t forget to visit the Chesil Theatre later this month for After Electra by April de Angelis, directed by Peter Andrews.  Running 20 – 27 May at 7.45pm,  this is a moving black comedy that re-imagines the meaning of family. April de Angelis’ After Electra premiered at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth in April 2015 before playing at the Tricycle Theatre in London. You can book tickets from the Chesil Theatre here.

SHOCC Dances will be bringing a Ceilidh to the Winchester Guildhall, 20 May.  Doors open at 19:15 for a 19:30 start and the dance finishes at 23:30. There will be a licensed bar serving real ale. Tickets are available here. Whilst you are at the Guildhall, The House of Gin Festival returns 27 May, with a brand new format in association with Winchester Distillery, Twisted Nose Gin and Fentimans / East Imperial tonic and mixers. The festival will have three Gin bars showcasing a wide range of Small Batch and Award Winning Gins. There will also be the Copperhead Gin and De Borgen Cocktail Bar. A £7.00 ticket entry includes your complimentary ‘House of Gin’ Rocking Glass for you to keep and use at the event. For more details, visit the Guildhall website here.

Gin connoisseurs may also enjoy the Spring Gin Dinner at the Running Horse.  Gin cocktails to taste, spring dishes to enjoy and lots of fun to be had. The evening will start from 7.30pm where you will be welcomed with a gin tipple with three delicious courses soon to follow. £33.50 per person, Saturday 27th May and you can book here.

Enjoy the spring offerings and we’ll be bringing you more tweets and tips @Win_Guide throughout the month.

Ballet Black is Back

Our editor Donald Hutera delves into the workings of Ballet Black, returning to Winchester for the second year in a row

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream" by Arthur Pita Photography: Bill Cooper
A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Arthur Pita
Photography: Bill Cooper

Ask Cassa Pancho, the artistic director of Ballet Black, what her dreams and plans for the company are and she answers, ‘To keep going.’ It might sound simple, maybe even glib, but behind the succinct reply is a vast amount of sheer hard graft.

Pancho, who is of Trinidadian and British parentage, studied classical ballet at the Royal Academy. Upon graduating, and having noted a dearth of people of colour either studying or working professionally in the ballet sphere, she decided to address this alarming omission by starting a company of her own. The result was Ballet Black, founded in 2001 with a mission to ‘provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet.’

Since then the company has gradually attained a high-profile, earning acclaim, awards (including gongs from the dance section of Critics’ Circle for its outstanding repertory and as best independent company) and an avid fan-base. Among the chief reasons for its ascent is the calibre of dancing coupled with Pancho’s astute and truly impressive choice of choreographic commissions. The latter roster includes Irek Mukhamedov, Richard Alston, Shobana Jeyasingh, Liam Scarlett, Bawren Tavaziva, Henri Oguike, Christopher Hampson, Will Tuckett, Antonia Franceschi, Javier De Frutos, Mark Bruce and Jonathan Goddard. ‘When I began the company I was always the one inviting people to make ballets,’ Pancho explains, ‘but now we get a lot more asking us if they can create something.’

Here at The Winchester Guide we’re partial to Ballet Black, having worked with the company in the summer of 2009 on the production POP8 at the Giant Olive Theatre. It seems that audiences in Winchester may be likewise favourably inclined, given that the company’s upcoming performances at the Theatre Royal Nov 28 (triple bill, 7.30pm) and 29 (family show Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, 2pm and 4.30pm) constitutes its second visit to the venue. With any luck, this might well develop into an annual occurrence.

Pancho, not unnaturally, enjoys sharing information what the work the company is doing. As do the choreographers she invites to create on her dancers. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call it a mutual admiration society.

Consider Martin Lawrance, a long-time associate (as both dancer and dance-maker) of Richard Alston’s company. The curtain-raising Limbo is the third time that he’s made work for Ballet Black, following the 2009 duet Pendulum and the quartet Captured three years later. Pancho deems his new work, a trio about being caught between life and death, ‘fiendishly difficult and exhausting to dance – but worth it!’

Lawrance, for his part, has a high regard for Ballet Black’s dancers. ‘They can do everything,’ he enthuses. ‘How can I get them to do things better, by which I mean push them in a different way?’ The result, set to Hindemeth’s fastidiously dramatic Viola Sonata, is a dark, dynamic piece that fulfils Lawrance’s creative brief to mine human feeling out of motion. ‘You make movement,’ he says, explaining his approach to choreography. ‘I don’t go into the studio with a dramatic idea. I just see where the phrases lead, but as it turns out that can be done poetically.’

Sharing the first half of Friday’s evening bill with Lawrance’s Limbo is Two of a Kind by dancer (including with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) turned chorographer Christopher Marney. Pancho describes it as ‘a beautiful quartet set to Ravel and Tchaikovsky, exploring the theme of one woman’s internal journey through the course of a changing relationship.’ This work has been expanded from its original state as an eight-minute pas de deux fashioned for a Ballet Black fundraiser in 2009.

Dogs Don't Do Ballet
Dogs Don’t Do Ballet

Two of a Kind is the second dance Marney’s made for the company, after having scored a hit with War Letters last year. But it doesn’t stop there. Marney is also responsible for Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, based on Anna Kemp’s best-selling children’s book about, in Pancho’s words, ‘a little dog who thinks he’s a ballerina and doesn’t want to do anything but dance. The company really enjoys working with Chris as his choreography is incredibly inventive, funny and touching – all the things that make the book so special.’ Pancho is pleased because, as she says, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a ballet for families to enjoy together.’

Another important aspect of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, she adds, is that it marks the first time Ballet Black is using a set. Is it any wonder that Marney’s scheduled to make another work for the company in 2016?

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream" by Arthur Pita Photography: Bill Cooper
A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Arthur Pita
Photography: Bill Cooper

That only leaves Arthur Pita’s Olivier and Critics’ Circle-nominated ensemble piece A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be discussed. ‘I’d wanted to work with Arthur for a while,’ Pancho confesses, ‘and when he suggested  a Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s turned on its head I jumped at the chance. We have an incredible catalogue of ballets, but for our fourth narrative work I wanted to try something less traditional and really give the dancers a challenge. Arthur’s created a pure gem of a ballet for us, traditional in one sense – it’s our first time with tutus! – but just as you think you’re going to see something very classical he pulls the rug out from under you. The music includes Eartha Kitt, Handel, Jeff Buckley, Yma Sumac and Barbara Streisand, to name a few. Arthur has a true gift for weaving these things together to make one of my all-time favourite BB ballets. It feels like a real piece of theatre. We’ve toured it around the UK and Italy, and audiences are loving it.’

You could hardly ask for a more heart-felt and articulate endorsement than that. Still, it’s worth finding out what it meant to Pita himself to create the piece. For starters, he really appreciates that with this 25-minute work for eight dancers he was able to take a risk. ‘The first section of the piece is a ballet with tutus, tights, pointe shoes and the works – something I’d never done. I’m totally fascinated by the laws of the tutu and how they marry to a balletic vocabulary. It was wonderful collaborating with designer Jean-Marc Puissant who has such vast knowledge about tutus. I learned so much about the atheistic of ballet generally, and the dancers were so encouraging. I’d also just come out of doing a darker piece prior to working with Ballet Black, and so I felt the need to do something lighter and have some fun with the dancers.’

Pita says his goal was ‘to create a ballet in which rules can be broken and mended within the laws of classical ballet and theatre.’ But his intentions towards his source material remained honourable. ‘I’ve always loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the Indian boy way back in the English National Opera’s production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, and I remember thinking how well the narrative lent itself to dance and music. Shakespeare provides much mischief and glorious images to play with, yet there’s an honesty in all of the characters’ desire. It’s not faithful, but it’s certainly inspired by the world of Shakespeare’s Dream. It’s an adaptation of the idea, hence the title. The images of the narrative are there, but the journey to them is different.’

Asked to pinpoint what the pleasure of working with Ballet Black is, Pita replies, ‘It’s the passion they have for their work. They work in a tiny space in Marylebone, and I mean tiny, and only have a big studio once a week at the Royal Opera House. Somehow, with love and compassion, they manage with no complaints. There’s a joyous atmosphere in the studio. And Cassa gives herself fully. She cares so much about the company and what it stands for. She’s kept the company going with only a little support from Arts Council England, but has gone from strength to strength.’

Based at Marylebone Dance Studio in London, Ballet Black occupies a unique place on the British dance scene and Pancho is rightly proud of it. ‘We’ve achieved many things over the years. Our main goal was and is to inspire more children and dancers of black or Asian heritage to take up ballet in some form.’ To that end, she says, ‘We have a thriving school for children that’s packed with students of all colours; they come to the performances, take classes, and pass ballet exams. Another goal was going from being a part-time group to a full-time professional company over fourteen years. We’ve won two Critics’ Circle awards (plus three nominations) and have toured extensively throughout the UK, Italy and Bermuda. Our entirely original repertoire of over 30 ballets by over 25 choreographers is also quite rare.’ While Pancho admits that ‘a lack of substantial, regular money makes it challenging to plan too far ahead,’ she remains determined and optimistic about the company’s future. ‘I don’t like to think that anything can hold us back.’

November Win Guide

Remember, remember! 
The fifth of November, 
The Gunpowder treason and plot; 

Winchester Bonfire and Fireworks
Winchester Bonfire and Fireworks

It’s that time of year again! The leaves are brown and crisp and the dusk air has regained its perfectly magical ability to turn breath into mystical fog. It’s time to pull on a heavy coat, boots, hat, scarf and gloves and head out into Winchester city centre for the bonfire extravaganza. The Observance of 5th November Act 1605 was passed in 1606 calling for a public, annual thanksgiving for the failure of the infamous Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot, although the act was annulled in 1859.  A hundred years later in 1959, Winchester Round Table decided to reignite the festivities with its inaugural bonfire and fireworks display, raising £20 for local charities.  This year will mark the 56th annual event, with 100% of profits donated to local charities and good causes.  Over 25,000 people attended last year and donations exceeded £30,000.

Winchester Bonfire and Fireworks
Winchester Bonfire and Fireworks

A sea of fiery torches process from the Broadway, up the High Street, along Jewry Street until they reach the North Walls recreation site, and it’s a formidable sight to behold.  This year, the event takes place on Saturday 8th November. Tickets are £3 in advance and £5 on the night. Under 16 year olds are being encouraged to build a ‘Guy’, with competition winners invited to join MP Steve Brine at the Houses of Parliament for a less anarchic more civilised afternoon tea and a tour. Entries should be brought along to the River Park Leisure Centre for 3.15pm to be judged at 3.30pm, and the ‘Guys’ will take pride of place on the bonfire in the evening.

Ballet Black
Ballet Black

If loud bangs, crowds and chilly weather don’t appeal, head indoors for the Winchester Short Film Festival taking place 8th – 15th November at the artcafe. The festival provides a platform for Hampshire’s short filmmakers, with shortlisted films shown across nine award categories. And don’t miss the Win Guide’s hot dance tip Ballet Black who will visit the Theatre Royal on Friday 28th November. This celebrated company of classically trained black and asian dancers present a triple bill of new work with exciting ballets from gifted British choreographers including ‘Two of a Kind’ by Christopher Marney (Gothenburg Ballet, New Adventures) ‘Limbo’ by Martin Lawrance (Richard Alston Dance Company) and ‘A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Arthur Pita (Showboat, The Metamorphosis). Ballet Black were produced by the Win Guide’s very own George Sallis in 2008 in the steamy critics’ choice ‘POP8’, choreographed by Antonia Franceschi (Fame, New York City Ballet) at Giant Olive Theatre. The latter is also home of GOlive Dance & Performance Festival which made its way to Winchester in September 2014 in what will hopefully be the first of many visits.

Winchester Wine Festival
Winchester Wine Festival

The eagerly anticipated Winchester Wine Festival takes place this month at the Guildhall from Friday 21st November until Sunday 23rd November.  Two of the planet’s 300 ‘Masters of Wine’ – otherwise known as BBC1 Saturday Morning Kitchen regulars and Winchester based husband and wife duo Peter Richards and Susie Barrie will be hosting the event and sharing their expertise with city folk and visitors.  Tickets are £25 and include entrance to the festival, unlimited wine tasting samples, a free Riedel wine glass (worth £12.50) and access to exclusive discounts from participating suppliers (not bad timing in the run up to Christmas!). The event is running in support of the very worthy local charity Naomi House and Jacksplace. The Friday night VIP launch tickets are £35 and, on top of the standard perks, also include canapés and a wine festival goodie bag. Keep an eye out for special discounts on tickets, which will be running on social media, and for information on specific masterclasses. This feels like a perfect accompaniment to the gastronomic epi-centre that Winchester is fast becoming, with Autumn 2014 having seen the introduction of Hugh Fearnley Whittington’s Canteen, Rick Stein Winchester and the announcement of the Côte Brasserie, due to open in January 2015 at the top of the High Street (next door to the naked man on the horse sculpture, ‘Horse and Rider’ by Elisabeth Frink).

Winchester Christmas Market
Winchester Christmas Market

And incredibly, if you stroll over to Cathedral Outer Close on Friday 21st November you’ll be transported into a magical wonderland with the opening of this year’s Christmas Market and Ice Rink.  Running from 6pm – 9pm, the free event will include a seven piece live jazz band ‘Funk Lab’, the fantastic Marwell Zoo Choir, a procession of paper lanterns and a pyrotechnic display. The mulled wine will be flowing alongside other festive food and drink which will be on offer throughout the season until 21st December. The markets are open 10am – 6pm Sunday – Wednesday and 10am – 7.30pm, Thursday – Saturday. The beautifully-lit wooden chalets evoke a romantic, Germanic fairytale Christmas and the open-air ice rink is a great family treat, set against the majestic backdrop of the Cathedral. Somerset House, eat your heart out!

Plenty to satisfy the senses this month, and keep us warm as the chilly weather sets in.