Ballet Black in Rehearsal for Storyville

Ballet Black returns to the Linbury Studio Theatre this February with Short Dance Works, a mixed bill combining plotless pieces with a brand new 30-minute narrative ballet (their longest yet) choreographed by Christopher Hampson.

Storyville takes us back to the famous red-light district in 20th century New Orleans, Louisiana to tell the “rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags” tale of Nola, a sort of modern-day Manon. Before our Christmas break, we had the opportunity to watch Christopher rehearse the company:

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One of Hampson’s inspirations in putting together Storyville was Louis Malle’s 1978 film Pretty Baby. Featuring Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon, the movie tells the story of Hattie, a prostitute working at an elegant New Orleans brothel who corrupts her 12-year-old daughter Violet (Shields).

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The main inspiration, however, is former dance club Mahogany Hall (shut in 1917), where the story unfolds. The central character is the young and innocent Nola, a real tour de force for dancer Cira Robinson as she simply doesn’t leave the stage. The other characters in Storyville are: brothel “madam” Lulu (inspired by the real Lulu White and played by Sarah Kundi), Mack (the “stereotypical crook”, here interpreted by Jazmon Voss) and “The Lover” (Damien Johnson) who tries to save Nola from her downward spiral.

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For Hampson the real challenge for Cira will be “to go from teenage girl and to travel two years in half an hour, showing the decline in Nola’s personality…” Hampson adds: “Cira does beautiful work, I’m really thrilled to work with her.”

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Asked about the parallels between Storyville and MacMillan’s Manon, Hampson nods: “yes, they’re very much alike. It’s a story of many societies and catches so many different time periods in history.”

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With Storyville – Ballet Black’s longest ballet to date – and last year’s Orpheus (Tuckett) in the repertoire, does it mean the company will turn its focus to storytelling? Not for the immediate, says Artistic Director Cassa Pancho: “we are still very well known for the abstract work, so I don’t want to get rid of all of that from the repertoire”.

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In additon to Hampson’s Storyville, Ballet Black’s Linbury season will include new pieces by Jonathan Watkins, Rambert’s Jonathan Goddard and Martin Lawrance.

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All Photos: © Zarina Holmes for The Ballet Bag. More here:

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With many thanks to Cassa Pancho and Christopher Hampson

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Ballet Black presents Short Dance Works at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, from 29 February to 7 March 2012. For tickets & booking visit the ROH website.

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).