'Usually, those who say Ballet Black is racist haven't seen it'
Cassa Pancho had only just graduated in 2001 when she decided to form Ballet Black, to provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with opportunities in classical ballet.
Local audiences have another chance to enjoy their performances when the company returns to Lincoln Drill Hall on Friday, November 30.
"It's not about the exclusion of anyone, it's just about connecting with black and Asian dancers and the hope we inspire future generations of children who are not white or from a white backgrounds," says Cassa, who is also artistic director.
"We have an international line-up with three American dancers, one Japanese and four British – all incredible dancers.
"And because there are only eight of them, audiences who come back and see us each year do get to know the dancers and have their favourites. They are all huge characters as well.
"I think the combination of black and Asian dancers doing classical ballet is unusual and we have a very different kind of repertoire.
"If you might be of the opinion ballet is a bit boring, this is very different. People who have come along to see Ballet Black who have never been to see ballet before and, who may have been dragged along by a friend, will say afterwards 'wow, we loved it'. We always use a diverse range of choreographers as well."
For their return to Lincoln Drill Hall, Ballet Black will be showcasing British choreographic talent: Running Silent from Jonathan Goddard, Together Alone from Jonathan Watkins, Captured from Martin Lawrance and a piece called Storyville, a dark tale of love, corruption and survival set in the nightclubs of 1900s New Orleans, by Christopher Hampson.
"I hope we give audiences variety. We also offer something a little shorter than the traditional three acts and one story as well. Our current show is a duet, solo and quartet in the first half, followed by an original story," says Cassa.
The ultimate goal of the company is to see change in the number of black and Asian dancers in mainstream ballet companies, but they have had to face criticism as well.
Cassa says: "In the early days I remember thinking 'let's give it five years' but as I went along I realised it was going to take so much time – we opened a school for children and my little 3-year-olds are now just up on their points.
"But three of our current dancers have also gone through professional school inspired by seeing Ballet Black. But times are changing, whether that's down to Ballet Black or not.
"Ballet is a super critical world so we all live with criticism.
"But a lot of people, black and white, have a problem with what they see the agenda to be. Some say Ballet Black is racist.
"I usually find people who have a problem haven't seen the show."
Lincoln Drill Hall on Friday, November 30 (8pm). Tickets: £14 (£12 concs / £10 students). Box office: 01522 873894, www.lincolndrill hall.com