Imagine a small company of just seven dancers being served a smorgasbord of eclectic new works, dished up by a quartet of today’s best young British choreographers from different top-ranking British companies. Ballet Black has just had the good fortune to present this spring season’s fare to a full house capacity at the Linbury Theatre in Covent Garden.

Ballet Black holds a unique place in the UK’s dance world. It was founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho in a bid to tackle the issue that too few black dancers were to be found in classical ballet companies. Her initial plan was to give them the opportunity to train and gain experience before hopefully being offered jobs with bigger companies. But it hasn’t worked that way. Ballet Black, now recognized for its innovative works and feisty, talented dancers, has continued, thriving in its uniqueness and spirit. And the public is enthusiastic and supports it, especially since Pancho also commissions a slew of excellent, fresh young choreographers to produce works for the company. This, Ballet Black’s 11th year, has proved no exception.

First on the bill was Together Alone, created by Royal Ballet’s Jonathan Watkins to a commissioned score by Alex Baranowski. To his pulsating music, the two dancers (Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss) emote with punctuated action – shaking shoulders, off-kilter stances, liquid movement – to connect, separate, sometimes finding solace in solitude, other times needing each other’s closeness. Kundi, in a short Degas-style tutu – black with bright yellow under-tulle – showed spirited, sharp attacking technique and dangerously speedy pointe work, while Voss was muscular and powerful in his movements, flying through the air with a wonderfully stretched body.

In the next piece, Kanika Carr, a second-year apprentice, showed a burgeoning talent in the solo Running Silent, created by Rambert Dance Company’s Jonathan Goddard. In a loose tunic, her mop of wild curly hair scraped back from her forehead to puff out impressively like a lion’s mane, she pranced and softly jumped, rolled on the floor contorting her body and twisting every which way, as she performed the choreographer’s vision of delving in deep water.

Martin Lawrance became the rehearsal director of the Richard Alston Dance Company after stopping dancing, and he has been a prolific choreographer over the past twelve years. This experience is evident in his piece Captured, for four dancers, in which he uses Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 11, a score written at a turbulent time in the composer’s life. Each of the 7 movements brings its own emotion and sensitivity to the two couples who confront each other for their own space. They move with strong, expanded movements in their challenges, sometimes menacing, sometimes uncouth, the tension flowing from them all. The dancers – Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson, Joseph Poulton and Cira Robinson – infused the work with energy and powerful physicality exploding with fast footwork, speedy turns and space-devouring leaps.

Christopher Hampson’s narrative ballet Storyville was a complete change from the other three works. Based on a rags-to-riches-and-back-again true story (and on the 1978 film Pretty Baby), it is set in the red-light district of New Orleans in the early 1900s. It tells of a sweet, young girl called Nola and her downward spiral on the road to degradation in the notorious dance hall known as Mahogany Hall.

Hampson, who danced with English National Ballet for several years and becomes director of Scottish Ballet next season, is an experienced choreographer both at home and abroad. Over the years he has continued to broaden his palate with pure, fluid classical dances and full-length narrative works that show off his observation and wit – his wacky production of The Nutcracker, with designs by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, was in ENB’s repertoire for ten years. This was his second work for Ballet Black.

The scenario covers three years (humorously stated on a printed sign brought on by a pretty dance hall performer), and the pace was lively. The toe-tapping music, from the opening crooning of Kurt Weill’s song ‘Lost in the Stars’ to extracts from Weill’s popular Threepenny Opera added to the enjoyment. As Nola, Cira Robinson made the perfect innocent. Small, wide-eyed and dressed in red coat and bow – with matching doll – she nimbly showed her development from little girl dancing with her dolly to dance hall floozy, sashaying her hips and flashing her eyes. And I don’t think I have ever seen a better or speedier ‘drunken’ dancer on pointe! As her lover, Damien Johnson expressed concern and compassion, carefully partnering her and demonstrating light, high jumps and soft landings. The couple was well supported by Sarah Kundi who danced Lulu White, the ‘Madam’ of the dance hall, and Jazmon Voss who played Mack. The other company members took the other roles, and the work was entertaining as well as great fun.

Clambering up the flights of stairs to exit into Covent Garden, there were strains of Weill’s ‘Mack the Knife’ being hummed by audience members, agreeing that it had been a very good evening. Somewhat selfishly, we were happy that Cassa Pancho’s dream had not materialized and that her troupe of stimulating and talented dancers was keeping Ballet Black alive.

Ballet Black: Short Dance Works, at ROH, LinburyMargaret Willis reviews Ballet Black in the ROH Linbury Theatre performing Together Alone, Captured, Running Silent and Storyville.