Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; November 25, 2013
The BalletBoyz double bill had a brief showing of two performances at Sadler’s Wells in a programme that provided plenty of contrast. The two choreographers’ works reflected their backgrounds and heritage with Liam Scarlett, Artist in Residence, at the Royal Ballet favouring the aesthetic in “Serpent”; while the more contemporary-based Russell Maliphant focuses on the movement in “Fallen”, which presents a visually powerful world where the lights are as choreographed as the dance.
In “Fallen”, Maliphant moves out of his comfort zone of working with individuals to tackle an ensemble and does it very well indeed. The opening duality of a central group working in rhythmic unison with individual dancers on the periphery is masterful. On a stripped-bare stage, bodies are shaped in pools of light or, at times, just a limb is illuminated by a bright shaft cutting through the gloom.
An intensely lonely solo shifts to double work where he uses the power in the men’s bodies in inventive athleticism. The work is compelling, the dynamics finely balanced holding an edge of unease and expectancy throughout. Maliphant continues his fruitful collaboration with lighting designer Michael Hulls whose dramatic lighting is often synchronised with the music (a powerful score from award-winning French cinema composer Armand Amar) for added punch.
“Serpent” is Liam Scarlett’s first commission for the BalletBoyz, and his first choreographed work to use contemporary dancers. Danced to a characteristically haunting score by Max Richter, he has the men strip down to flesh coloured tights, unusual in this group whose trademark is urban grunge. The dance highlights the physical beauty of the male physique but at the same time brings a cooler more distant mood as if the buddies in undressed state were reluctant to engage with their emotions. There seemed little eye contact even as the bodies were closely engaged.
The serpent theme tested Scarlett’s powers of invention and extracts beautiful collective images and movements from the opening evocative snake’s head, suggested in the raised arms, to the row of bodies linked in snake-like length. There is more invention in the duets, where sculpted bodies are bathed in colourful lights. But although Scarlett structures the phrases and sections with his customary skill, the work never looked quite comfortable on the bodies.
The video clips (where would a BB show be without them?) offer sneak previews of the choreography and comments from the creators but comment and feedback from the dancers would also be welcome. A more bonded male cohort would be hard to find but, without suggesting a hierarchy, some sparks of individualism would spice the mix nicely.