The Roundhouse, London, UK; July 31, 2014
The programme notes for this Roundhouse performance reminded me that the BalletBoyz first capital gig was also at this venue 13 years ago. And your intrepid reporter was there.
In those far off days the company was called George Piper Dances, after the middle names of founders Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. It doesn’t need a PR consultant to see that isn’t the best branding and the name BalletBoyz was soon adopted. That first programme was a strange mix of top class work from Forsythe, Lightfoot/Leon and Maliphant, with a couple of dire pieces from the Boyz themselves as they didn’t have the cash to commission other work.
How times have changed. For this performance all the work was top class and they booked the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide live music. Most significant, this is the sixth season of The Talent, Nunn and Trevitt’s clever idea of creating a distinctive company of 10 strong, young male dancers when the founders had to hang up their dance shoes. The combination of filmed interviews and rehearsals continues between the onstage action, although the eccentric and often amusing local filming has been dropped along the way.
With work as sharply contrasted as “Asphodel Meadows”, the very dark “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Serpent”, Liam Scarlett has established himself as one of the leading choreographers working today in the UK. His “Serpent” was preceded by a video with the choreographer describing how women are usually the focus of his choreography, so working only with men demanded a fresh approach, seeking a poetic way of projecting maleness without losing physicality. With bare chests and skin tight flesh coloured pants the effect was of almost nude bodies. The opening was striking with all ten on the floor with knees up and backs to the audience. An arm springs up like a giraffe’s head followed by a sequence of others. Once standing the dancers move in powerful, sensuous movement to slow, lyrical music by Max Richter, stretching and creating memorable shapes and encounters. In the duets, Scarlett uses the power and equality of the partners to great effect with remarkable lifts especially in a middle section to faster music. At the end of the final ensemble section, the dancers return to the floor echoing the opening.
The evening included a preview extract of “Young Men” by Iván Pérez to be premièred in January 2015. Pérez has already choreographed for both NDT companies and National Ballet of Cuba, but is not well known in the UK, so it was a brave move of Nunn and Trevitt to commission him for a full length work on the high profile theme of men and war. The first scene features naturalistic movement in boots and everyday clothes and powerful physical encounters including head butts – these are aggressive young men. The second scene is in sharp contrast with a war ravaged background, and despairing, exhausted figures with one dressed only in briefs and moving eccentrically, perhaps broken emotionally by his experiences. All round, a powerful presentation that promises much for the full show.
Finally, we saw “Fallen”, Russell Maliphant’s most recent creation for the Company. Maliphant, a regular partner with BalletBoyz from the first show, comments in the introductory video that he usually works with smaller groups and that choreographing for ten presents fresh challenges. “Fallen” begins with the full company clustered in a circle with some dancers raised. This geometric pattern continues with the dancers in two spinning circles, one standing, one on the floor. It’s a brilliant opening. Later we see several duets with Maliphant’s characteristic weight transfers, with swinging arms and capoeira moves, but with enough variation to bring a fresh flavour. There is an extended ensemble section at the end with break-out duets and other combinations. Although the finale could be trimmed by a few minutes in my view, overall it is easy to see why “Fallen” picked up the Best Modern Choreography prize at this year’s National Dance Awards. The dancers were terrific throughout the evening, showing strong technique, great movement quality and convincing acting when required.
Thirteen years ago, it was a courageous and distinctive concept to bring cutting edge chamber ballet and contemporary dance to medium size venues around the country. But with their charisma, fine dancing and curating skills, Nunn and Trevitt pulled it off and then segued into The Talent – another bold experiment. With their own studios now and an expanding repertoire of high quality, BalletBoyz seem destined for a secure future presenting high art in an accessible format.