Ballet Black, Then or Now & Nina: By Whatever Means, The Rep, Birmingham, 03 May 23 to 04 May 23. 4**** David Gray

Then or Now * Nina: By Whatever Means

The first part of Then or Now is set to the words of Adrienne Rich’s Dark Fields of the Republic, underscored by variations on a theme by Heinrich Biber by Daniel PioroRich’s poetic cycle is wrought with dark imagery which speaks of fear, uncertainty and the inevitability of dissolution.  It is comprised of fragmentary snatches of thought, conversations that we join halfway through, streams of ideas which seem to come from nowhere and end as abruptly.  The abstract framing of the poetry is complemented by the abstract language of the dance, and they both contextualise one another by inviting the audience to create their own synergies between movement and word.

The dance language is restrained, elegant, almost courtly.  But at the same time, intense, thoughtful, and always highly imaginative.  There are no great explosions of energy.  Formal unity is created by the repeated use of choreographic motifs: a particular lift, a slide on point across the floor.

The poetry seems to explore two transformational arcs: the movement from the impersonal to the personal; the movement from the abstract to the emotional.  These arcs are reflected in the spatial compass of the dance.  To start with the dancers are apart, moving individually, in pairs or in small clusters.  Contact is brief, sometimes little more than a brush or a tap on the shoulder.  But as the words dwell more on the directly human, the interactions become more sustained, and the dancers coalesce into larger clusters of sharing and community.

The second part of the piece is danced to Biber’s Passacaglia for solo violin played in it’s entirety by Pioro.  Having moved through the transformational process of the first part, the dancers are now free to move with confidence and fully explore their own and each other’s potentials. The piece concludes as it started, with the dancers seated on chairs around the stage, but now much closer together.

This is a beautifully conceived, realised and performed piece of dance.  It has a clear and satisfying structural feel that takes the audience on a profound and intriguing journey.

The second work of the evening Nina: By Whatever Means.  Is structurally more problematic and, therefore, less satisfying.  Taking the life of Nina Simone as its starting point, it seems, at first, to be a dance biopic.  So we have Nina the child experiencing music in church, taking piano lessons, becoming a performer, experiencing a failed relationship.  The dance is representational, perhaps pedestrian, and at times loose in ensemble. 

Then, suddenly, we are in another dance piece entirely.  We get to explore Simone’s political and spiritual life through an explosive, highly energised, and sustained sequence danced to a live recording of Sinnerman.  Hooded, rag-clad figures fill the performance space, pulsating with a dangerous extasy.  Nina herself is transformed  by the power of the music into an oracular High Priestess.  It is absolutely thrilling.  And you think, ‘Where did that come from?!’

Taken as a whole, this is an evening of powerful, evocative dance that looses its way a bit in the middle, but sends you away with a real buzz.

David Gray & Paul Gray are Reviewers for Birmingham, West Midlands and (often) the Three Choirs Festival. If you would like David & Paul to come review for you, drop us a line at


Cassa Pancho, Jose Alves, Isabela Coracy, Alexander Fadayiro, Taraja Hudson, Sayaka Ichikawa, Rosanna Lindsey, Mthuthuzeli November, Helga Paris-Morales, Ebony Thomas


Then or Now

Choreography & Direction – William Tuckett * Lighting Design – David Platter * Costume Design – Yukiko Tsukamoto * Poetry – Adrienne Rich * Director of Poetry – Fiona L Bennett * Poetry Recordings – Hafsah Bashir, Natasha Gordon & Michael Shaeffer * Violin – Daniel Pioro

Nina: By Whatever Means Choreography, Direction and Set Design – Mthuthuzeli November * Lighting Design – David Platter *

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