Continued resilience in the face of adversity

Like Water (balletblack.co.uk) reviewed by Joh Foster.

Ballet Black is a British ballet company, comprising of Black and Asian dancers. Set up by Cassa Pancho MBE, in 2001, the company aims to provide opportunities to dancers and students of Black and Asian descent, and ultimately to diversify classical ballet in Britain. Ballet Black advocate for wider societal change and were instrumental in collaborating with professional dance shoe manufacturer, Freed of London, to create pointe shoes for Black, Brown, and Asian dancers’ skin tones instead of the typical Caucasian ‘nude’.

Like Water, created and choreographed by Mthuthzeli November, a senior artist with Ballet Black, is a beautiful and moving triumph. As a white woman, I cannot begin to imagine the horrors contained with the histories that are woven throughout this nine-minute film, spectacularly performed on the shores adjacent to the white cliffs of Dover, though I can, however, appreciate the raw beauty of the story the artists seek to share.

The film opens with narration from November, initially spoken in the Xhosa tongue with subtitles in English, ‘Mntana we langa (Children of the sun). Camagu (Gratitude) awusemhle mntanedlozi (you are beautiful)’ and starts off slowly with an almost ripple-like quality to the synchronicity of the dancers’ movements. Each artist in tells their tale using their body to depict experiences of slavery, fierce uprising, and ultimately emancipation.

The theme of water quite literally flows throughout, with the waves of the English Channel providing the perfect backdrop. This leads the viewer to one of the final scenes displaying a single dancer on a chair gazing out to sea, with his peers having fallen on the sand behind him. ‘The spirits of the water have seen a great many things. They have seen a people, captured, abducted and sold over the centuries only to be bought and sold again...the only connection with home being the ocean herself.’

Like Water is a huge nod of recognition to the generations that have had no choice but to show continued resilience in the face of adversity. ‘A world that has conditioned us to not see the beauty of our skin, hair, culture and our people. But like water we flow, like water we change shape. We remain resilient.’ Like Water could help all acknowledge the histories and struggles that have come before us and remain to this day.

- Reviewed by Joh Foster, Organisational Psychologist and Change Specialist. Twitter: @TheWiseFoster

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