Tag Archives: Richard Alston

Just Dance – Hitting the Moment


Winchester Guide editor and arts journalist (The Times, etc) Donald Hutera interviews the multi-talented Antonia Franceschi as she prepares for the UK premiere of Just Dance.

Early in her career Antonia Franceschi planted her feet in two camps. Born in the American Midwest but raised in New York, this petite, blonde and street-wise young woman pointed more than a toe in films. She was a student at the High School of Performing Arts when first cast as one of the gum-chewing dancers in ‘Grease.’ After that, playing the speaking and dancing role of posh ballerina Hilary van Doren sealed her, uh, ‘Fame.’

Antonia Franceschi
Antonia Franceschi

Being a part of two popular cinematic landmarks was quite an accomplishment. But it was as a super-refined dancer with New York City Ballet that Franceschi went on to make a mark, and with the discerning eye of George Balanchine upon her. She was one of the last to work directly with the prolific choreographic genius who was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1904 and died in New York City in 1983. Franceschi was a member of his company – the pinnacle of classical dance – for twelve years, where she estimates she danced in about fifty of his nearly 100 works.

Asked to mention just one of the many things she learnt from working with Balanchine, Franceschi serves up a solid piece of advice: ‘When a choreographer asks you to do something, you really do it. That’s what holds. Because if you do it, you keep it.’

It’s this sure and deep wisdom that Franceschi brings to Just Dance, the seven-strong neo-classical company that she is now preparing for its UK premiere at Theatre Royal Winchester on July 20. The dancers involved have an excellent pedigree, including links to Royal Ballet (where Franceschi is currently serving as an ace rehearsal director), Rambert, Richard Alston, Ballet Black and Random Dance. ‘They’re all hand-picked from different places,’ Franceschi says, ‘and they get to work with each other and learn.’

They also learn – and a tremendous amount, too – from Franceschi herself. She has lived and worked in the UK for several decades, dancing and teaching and producing and, with increasing frequency, choreographing. Working with her can be, as one of her own dancers has put it, transformative. ‘I pick them because they can do it,’ Franceschi says of her casting choices. ‘And technically I can get them there, if they have the core.’

Antonia Franceschi
Antonia Franceschi

Given all her experience onstage, working on both sides of the Atlantic not only with Balanchine but high-profile dance-makers such as Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Michael Clark, Wayne McGregor, Mark Baldwin and Arlene Phillips, it’s not surprising that Franceschi knows ‘what a step is, and what it’s meant to be. And I can break it all down.’ She compares this guiding physical process to poetry.: ‘You strip them down to the point where you can see who they are by the way they do something.

Last month I watched Franceschi in a London studio auditioning one male dancer and coaching another. It was quietly revelatory, and predicated on an almost mind -boggling level of detail. Low-key but concentrated, good-humoured and absolutely nurturing, it was clear that her goal was to bring out the best in each man. ‘Take your time,’ she’d say as they moved. And then, when they’d finished a phrase or passage of dance, ‘That’s it! That’s really beautiful. Just get it in your body and your head. Then it will look good on you. Because once you get the shape you can rock it.’

Afterwards, looking sleek and racehorse lean in a long-sleeved t-shirt sporting the sentence ‘Don’t let your emotions control you,’ Franceschi spoke directly and eloquently of what dance and choreography mean to her. First off, why dance? Describing herself as ‘really physical and vocally shy,’ Franceschi replied that she’s always been responsive to music. ‘It would just make me so happy to dance with music. My body always felt really good and did things. Add music – whether it’s street dance or Bach – and you’re just higher than a kite. Classical music gave me the same sort of rush. My ballet technique allowed me to release. And once you get on top of that technique, it all releases. It shifts you.’

What is it that she desires from any dancer she works with? ‘I want to see something animal, something amazing and something beautiful. I want the music and the moment. And I make sure that everything’s okay. With me they get everything they need. If I take you I will shape you.’

Are good dancers also, in some sense, good actors? ‘A lot of stuff happens onstage,’ Franceschi answers. ‘It’s about being in the moment, centred and uncluttered.’ It’s the combination of control and abandon, she adds, that makes an exciting moment. ‘But I won’t dictate your internal story.’ Instead, she avows, ‘I believe in releasing the artist. I will trigger something in them if I need to.’

Just Dance
Just Dance

For now Just Dance, which launched last year in an expansive outdoor setting in Malta, contains a handful of dances. All of the work was created by Franceschi. In the future, she says, ‘I have no interest in it being just me – my work. But if you’ve got a show, tour it. And it worked. Once you make it and somebody else wants it, you give it to them.’

Franceschi is articulate about the company’s repertoire – richly varied although stemming from a single source. ‘Kinderszenen’ is a series of city scene, twelve vignettes to Schumann that she pegs as representing ‘one night in Manhattan’ and featuring Carol Schille’s abstract paintings of the city as a backdrop. ‘The atmosphere is very New York,’ Franceschi says, ‘but I wanted to soften it.’

This is one of two works set to music by Allen Shawn, the sibling of the actor and playwright Wallace Shawn. These dances she calls ‘tricky’ because in both the dancers ‘have to be so good musically.’ The other Shawn-scored piece is ‘Jazz,’ which she compares to Balanchine ‘but you throw it away,’ by which she means it’s like ‘riding a wave: you’re on top of it, you know what you’re doing, and you go, “Ah-ha! Do you know what you’re doing?” You have to earn the right to throw it away.’

‘Spheres’ is a female solo set to the first violin solo ever written (by the German Baroque composer Johann Paul von Westhoff). ‘It has such drive,’ Franceschi says. Taking its cue from the score, choreographically this pieces ‘goes in arcs and circles. In my dances I always have a subconscious issue I’m trying to solve. The woman in this one is trapped, and she’s trying to figure it out. It’s like at midnight when you can’t sleep. You’re haunted by something. Okay, so go into it. But sometimes you can’t figure it out, and so you go to bed.’

For Franceschi the premise of Shift Trip Catch, with music by Zoe Martlew, is clear: ‘You can shift if you’re in a relationship, and hopefully they’ll catch you.’ After a beat she says, with a knowing smile, ‘I’m such a romantic but I work really hard to disguise it.’

Antonia Franceschi
Antonia Franceschi

Asked about being a woman in what is in many ways a male-dominated art form, at least in terms of who in the UK is at the top of the choreographic tree, Franceschi replies with considerable insight. ‘To choreograph for ballet you should train in ballet. What’s instilled in you is to be the best. The technique is so hard, and the competition so strong. The male partner has a huge advantage. They see and dictate. They take us [the ballerina]. We’re the person being partnered, so we can’t see the whole thing.’ When dancing in a standard classical duet, Franceschi explains further, ‘I need permission. I have to wait to be asked. And so that means when I choreograph a duet I have to become the man.’

Franceschi is now in her mid-50s. As she’s matured and grown in confidence, an innate streak of rebellion emerged. ‘How many women go, “This is what I think”? We’re told, “Don’t worry about it.”’ According to her, a lot of gender-related behaviour has a lot to do with how women are hard-wiring culturally. ‘We’re sensitive, but we can push and pull too.’

Aside from launching her own dance group, Franceschi is very much looking forward to developing opportunities in her post as the director of the Danceworks International Ballet Academy, a new school for children aged 8 to 16 that opens this very month. ‘It’ll take off,’ she says, elaborating about the students who will be in her charge: ‘You have to train them, nurture them, then release them to the public and give them the credit they deserve.’

Finally the conversation circles back to ‘Grease’ and ‘Fame.’ Looking back, what does Franceschi see? ‘Because I was so young I didn’t have any clutter, so I just did everything huge, and people said yes. And I had all that training; it was like having a volcano under you. It’s the precision of having really good technique and being able to dance on top of it. It’s training and instinct and hitting the moment.’

Theatre Royal Winchester
Theatre Royal Winchester

Just Dance will be making its UK Premiere at the Theatre Royal Winchester on 20th July at 7.30pm. There are a limited number of tickets available so with a week to go before the show you will need to book quickly to avoid disappointment.

Just Dance, book here. Produced by Giant Olive/AFD.

Staying Connected

Win Guide editor and national dance critic for The Times Donald Hutera interviews Yorke Dance Project’s Yolande Yorke-Edgell.

FIGURE GROUND - Yorke Dance Project
FIGURE GROUND – Yorke Dance Project. ©Pari Naderi

Founded by the dancer and choreographer Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Yorke Dance Project arrives at Theatre Royal Winchester on Tuesday, March 24 with a programme of work under the umbrella title Figure Ground. Outstanding, as Sanjoy Roy wrote in The Guardian. He also garnished his review with four stars. On the basis of my own viewing earlier this month of two dances on the bill, my colleague was not off the mark.

One of the highlights of the evening – and a big feather in the company’s cap – is the commission of a new work from Robert Cohan. Born in New York in 1925, as a dancer he was directly associated with the choreographer Martha Graham and, indeed, was an onstage partner to this American dance legend throughout the world. In the 1960s Cohan came to the UK where he helped transform the cultural landscape via his post as the founding artistic director of The Place. A converted drill hall a stone’s throw from Euston Station, the building was home to London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Cohan headed and created work for the company for two decades.

Robert Cohan, Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Robert Cohan, Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

Cohan, who turns 90 later this week, is living history and a fount of knowledge and wisdom. Yolande Yorke-Edgell is aware of how fortunate she is to have him as her mentor. Her own career trajectory takes in several other key figures in dance both in Britain and abroad, including Richard Alston (Yolande was a member of Rambert back when he ran this celebrated company) and, in Los Angeles, Bella Lewitzky (for whom Yolande danced many leading roles and served as a master teacher). Yolande danced in Alston’s eponymous troupe in the mid-noughties before forming Yorke Dance Project in 2009.

Donald Hutera: Where were you born, Yolande, and did you ‘always’ know you wanted to be a dancer?

Yolande Yorke-Edgell: I was born in Hertfordshire, and my mother was a dance teacher so I grew up with dance. It’s always been a part of my makeup or in my DNA, I guess. I’ve taken many paths away from dance, mostly due to injury, but always ended up back in the studio.

DH: How would you describe Bob Cohan both as mentor and choreographer? What does he bring to a studio and what specifically has he given you?

YYE: We first started working together when he reconstructed the solo Canciones Del Alma in 2013. [Ed. note: this dance was created in 1978 and was only shown once in the UK at The Place in 1979.]  This gave us some time to get to know each other, which led to him mentoring me and ultimately creating a new work for us.

As a mentor he’s incredibly generous. When I was creating Unfold To Centre [Ed. note: this septet is inspired by an award-winning 1978 computer-animated film by Larry Cuba that features visual objects composed of points of light], Bob would come and observe once a week. My original idea was to create an abstract piece that would connect solely with the animation, and be a response to it. What was clear when I spoke to Bob after our first rehearsal was that we needed a story, or a meaning, for it all. He’d challenge my thinking, and what made sense. What’s the reason for the dancers to do a certain movement? What’s leading them? Throughout the whole rehearsal period he’d make suggestions but always ended by saying, ‘You must do with what you feel is right.’ This dialogue is still evolving. We still talk about what works and does not work after every performance!

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

As a choreographer Bob’s a constant inspiration – and that’s not only from a choreographer’s point of view, but from a dancer’s too! Everyone’s benefited from working with him.  He talks directly to us, and has a way of describing what he wants so clearly and a lot of the time with humour. With the use of video and Vimeo Bob has been able to watch rehearsal footage and see what works; he then goes away and comes back in and makes the changes he needs. I think he’s been fascinated with the way we use technology in the studio now. That was part of the inspiration for Lingua Franca.

DH: I know this quartet was inspired by Bob’s 1984 work Agora, but how much of a blueprint – either used or ignored – was the original dance for him?

YYE: The whole idea for Lingua Franca came about when we were doing a lecture-demonstration at Winchester University in early 2014. The company was warming up onstage. Jonathan Goddard [Ed. note: this award-winning dancer – and a founding member of New Movement Collective – was interviewed by The Winchester Guide last autumn] was looking at material we were about to perform on his laptop, and the rest of us were either going through steps before the performance or doing our own stretches. Bob found this fascinating, seeing how each of us had our own way of preparing our bodies and with our own movement language. It’s what inspired the opening of Lingua Franca.

We had a three-week rehearsal period scheduled for making it. We only had a very poor quality video to look at of a company in Bergen, Norway that had reconstructed Agora, and it was difficult to really see what they were doing. It was also set to violin, and we were going to set it to piano so there were some musical challenges too.

We set up each day so that the company would do class and learn material from the video, and then Bob would come in for two or three hours and work with us.

Once we’d learnt the movement Bob started to rework it. His aim was to work with the dancers he had to create our own language. This was a challenge for him, as he’s mainly worked with dancers he’s known for a long time and trained. We’re familiar with each other, but it’s as if we’re having a new conversation each time. We also found the way we set this dance up spatially has a big impact. We now know that we always have to be quite close to each other, and not let the movement spread too far away or we risk losing our connection.

If you were to look at the video of the dancers in Bergen doing Agora you’d see similarities, but Lingua Franca is very different. The emphasis is on the dancers as individuals, moving how they move but responding to each other. It’s fascinating to perform as it really exists in the moment and how we’re feeling that day, and if we’re lucky enough to have Eleanor Alberga [Ed. note: a composer/pianist whose own composition is heard in the piece alongside Bach’s Chaconne in D minor] play live for us she’s also part of our conversation.

DH: Back to Unfold to Centre. Is it typical of your work, and how would you characterize your choreographic style generally?

YYE: Unfold isn’t typical of my work at all. I usually make works based on stories or people, with movement that’s less technical than flowing and that has a strong musical connection. But I like to try new approaches, and with Bob mentoring I was excited about what might happen.

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

My inspiration was a film by Larry Cuba that I came across by accident on Youtube and loved. At first it was really difficult to just make movement in relationship to the animation. Also I was looking at the patterns on a laptop and not projected onto a wall, and so I had to imagine what it would look like a lot of the time. It was clear after a few rehearsals that I needed more to work with, and so after many discussions with Bob I created a story for the piece. I decided that the dancers were a group of beings that lived in a place where there was little light. They had a leader, danced by Jon, who calls to the darkness to bring light, which is in the form of animation. There’s a routine or ritual to what they do as that’s how they exist; their slow pushing/pulling movement is them feeling their way around their world, sensing each other and staying connected. They must complete the rituals in order for them to receive light, which transforms them.

DH: It can be useful and fun to consider other senses when talking or thinking about dance. So, on that note, what temperature would you say Unfold To Centre exists in, and what might it taste or smell like?

YYE: It’s interesting that you should ask about smell. I would imagine chalky – as if they’re on their own planet, in their own world, with rituals that they must perform in order for them to have light. I imagine this would be their day, which reaches a climax when they make sure to have the last moment of light before resting, and then a new day and new ritual will begin. There’s a coolness where these people onstage are, but warmth from the light falling upon them inspires them to really move.

DH: Could you say something about the solo Canciones Del Alma and what it means for you as its interpreter?

YYE: The solo is really a meditation for me. It takes me on a journey in three parts. The first is dark and searching, the second cold and full of angst and the third is a resolve, with warmth and light and much contemplation. I find new moments in each performance, and although the general feelings are the same I hear, see and feel something different each time. It’s very powerful, and my challenge is to share this with the audience and not let it stay with and around me. The more personal it becomes the more I need to let them in.

DH: Figure Ground also contains another short dance, called No Strings Attached, made by Charlotte Edmonds when she was 16 or 17 years old. How is it that you know her and offered her such a wonderful opportunity?

YYE: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with such significant artists. Part of what I love most is not only that I’ve been able to hear, see and experience their work but am able to share it with the dancers I work with, and all the students I teach.

Charlotte was one of my students at The Royal Ballet School at White Lodge. I was aware of her talent as a choreographer, having seen her work in competitions held there. What she created has developed over time. When she first began she had a very strict plan, and part of my job as a mentor to her was to offer suggestions of new ways of working. This was particularly relevant when creating partnering. I remember Bob being present at one of her rehearsals, and he suggested she put herself in the movement so she could feel what she needed rather than try and guide it from the outside. She was then able to experiment with giving the dancers tasks and asking them for movement, which was new for her. The work reflects these possibilities. There are moments that are really strong, and others that need developing – but that’s maybe true of a lot of work including my own! I think it’s an incredibly impressive dance, and we’ve had some wonderful feedback from audience members.

DH: What do you want, need or expect from the people who dance in the company, and in your work?

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

YYE: There are two things I look for, and one is no more important than the other. I look for a dancer that moves me. A dancer can be technically very good, but if they’re not present in themselves – and instead are more concerned with what they look like – then I’m more likely to choose a less technical dancer who has the ability to say something in their body. They also have to have the right personality. I’ve had experiences in the past with dancers who create an uncomfortable situation which alters the dynamic between all of us, and as we’re such a small company this can be difficult to deal with. Currently the dancers in the company are all such lovely people. We have a great atmosphere in the studio and on tour, which I think comes across onstage too.

I remember when I contacted Adam Cooper about a role in his production Les Liaisons Dangereuse, he asked to meet me to discuss the project. At the end of the meeting he offered me the job. I asked if he wanted to see me dance and he said he didn’t need to. He’d asked people I’d worked with at Rambert about me, and that was good enough; getting a sense of me himself was what was important. I understand now how important that is. I did the same with Phil Sanger. I saw him dance only on video, but he was recommended by Richard Alston who worked with him at Phoenix Dance Theatre [Ed. note, this high-profile touring company is based in Leeds], so I met with Phil and he’s such a lovely person I asked if he would join us right away.

DH: Is there anything else you want to say about plans and ambitions for the company and your work?

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

YYE: It’s taken a few years to really define ourselves. Now we’re at a place where we can move forward knowing exactly who we are and what we’re trying to achieve. It’s clear that the past has a huge place in what we do, as does the future. We’ll continue to work with Bob, and I’m in the very early stages of discussing a potential Kenneth MacMillan work for our next production. There will also be a commission for an emerging choreographer, and I’ll continue to develop my own work. We have strong ties with America, and I’m developing connections with universities and colleges there. Bob and I are conducting master classes in California following this tour, and hope to do more later this year. We’re also developing a choreographic residency that we want to pilot this summer. Lots of exciting possibilities!

You can see Yorke Dance Project at Theatre Royal Winchester on Tuesday, March 24. Visit here: http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/figure-ground/

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.’