Ballet Black to perform Pioneers double bill of Then Or Now and Nina: By Whatever Means at York Theatre Royal on Friday

Ballet Black dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November in Will Tuckett’s Then Or Now. Picture: Bill Cooper

CASSA Pancho’s Ballet Black return to York Theatre Royal on Friday with a double bill of original ballets in Pioneers.

Formed in 2001 to celebrate dancers of Black and Asian descent, the London company presents works by two of their best-known collaborators, the award-winning Will Tuckett ((Depouillement, 2009, Orpheus, 2011) and Mthuthuzeli November (Ingoma, 2019, The Waiting Game, 2021).

Tuckett’s 35-minute Then Or Now, created in 2020, blends classical ballet, music and the poetry of Adrienne Rich to ask the question: in times like these, where do we each belong?

The second piece, the world premiere of November’s 40-minute Nina: By Whatever Means, is inspired by the artistry and activism of American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist Nina Simone. November weaves a picture of Simone’s turbulent and influential life to create an emotional and empowering love letter to this legendary cultural icon.

Cassa Pancho, Ballet Black’s founder, chief executive officer and artistic director, says: “Every year, I describe how delighted I am to present new works and this, our 21st year, is no different. I am so pleased that we can bring Then Or Now back for a longer run. Originally created to premiere in 2020, this ballet was delayed by the pandemic, and only had a very short run across four theatres in 2021.

Rosanna Lindsey, left, and Sayaka Ichikawa in Mthuthuzeli November’s Nina: By Whatever Means. Picture: Bill Cooper

“One of the joys of having work created specifically for Ballet Black is getting to revisit it with the choreographer, and we’ve had fun having Will back in the studio to restage this beautiful ballet.”

As for November’s Simone work, Pancho says: “It’s thrilling to be able to bring Nina: By Whatever Means to life. It’s part of our growing collection of ballets that depict the Black experience through classical ballet, creating a new and relevant repertoire for audiences of all ages, backgrounds and cultures.

“It is the realisation of a dream Mthuthuzeli had to create a love letter to Nina Simone, and I cannot wait to share this programme with you all.”

Ballet Black: Pioneers, York Theatre Royal, June 23, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or Age guidance: 7+. Caution: themes of racism and fleeting domestic violence in Nina: By Whatever Means.

Isabela Coracy in Ballet Black’s world premiere of Mthuthuzeli November’s Nina: By Whatever Means. Picture: Bill Cooper