Artistic directors and ex-Royal Ballet boys Michael Nunn and William Trevitt are back on the road with ‘the TALENT’ a dynamic collage of three contrasting new commissioned works. Taking a step back from the limelight their 8 young all male dancers dominate the stage with a testosterone infused intensity and commitment. The bright pair is celebrating 25 years of dancing collaboration and next year the tenth anniversary of their company Balletboyz. The innovative company has crusaded since 2001 creating pioneering male contemporary ballet fusion and stands strong in challenge of classic female domination of the dance world flanked by the current overpowering climate of successful male choreographers. “Real men wear tights” the tagline of the new merchandise range underlines the tone of controversial male domination on the dance floor. Although all of the dancers are clearly extremely technically talented with an unbelievable strength and understanding of and control over their body movement presenting such a strong social message about dance sometimes translates as male egotism. Though it is endearing and refreshing to see male sexuality rather than female celebrated on the stage there is a certain aspect of performance that panders to a rather shallow blatant knowledge of their physical appeal to a largely female crowd who sadly, with girlish giggles, respond in kind.
Despite being titled the Balletboyz the ballet element is more of an inspiration then the key discipline for the movement. There is frequent use of pas de chat, fourth position and straight leg extension but the characteristic curvature of the spine and more unnatural abstract twists and angles movement is performed at places it in a far more contemporary form. The movement often has a virtuosic quality and is performed with the pain staking attention to detail, technical strength and agility of a trained ballet dancer. All three works seem very conceptual, more than clear narratives or morals the works seem to give the audience more of an overall impression of a theme. Sometimes an emotion or sensation that becomes extraordinarily tangible though the source or purpose remains unclear. The danger of egotism is intentionally apparent in the first piece ‘B-banned’ due to its theme which seems to focus on the boy-band paradigm and celebrity culture.
The choreographer Freddie Opoku Addaie uses a strong theme of group formations in space to enforce ideas of fame and the power of many contrasted with the outsider. The change of pole position within a symmetrical arrow formation shows a thirst for the spot light as does moments of duet in ‘dance off’ fight style. Frequent leader changes reflect the moment by moment nature of fame revealing its instability, this adds a theme of societal acceptance and rejection. There is a clear comedic intention with a camp character and the outsider presented possibly as an obsessed fan. In this comedy and mocking of performing boy-band style movement is an undermining of superficiality, the abstract use of a character who crouches and moves around the group writhing as another dancer mimics typing on his back is an interesting grotesque style addition with questionable relevance.
The second piece, in complete contrast to the first, is earthy, organic and beautifully captivating. ‘Alpha’ choreographed by Paul Roberts is performed to lyrical acoustic guitar with soft male voice a stark and welcome change from the sound environment created in the first piece. It concentrates on themes of love, commitment, sacrifice, loyalty and love-lost though none of these are fully explored as their impression comes from the lyrics of the music. The group unity and contact work includes confident weight giving and taking, a fantastic display of trust. Touch is tender and tactile; the experimental style is treated with sensitivity and group awareness. The emotive embodiment of the group progressing together is deeply moving, suddenly we feel almost involved in the performance and take on the intensity and fragility without really being able to decide what emotions are key here, there is a definite mood created but it is difficult to put of finger on the nature of it, it is a tacit knowledge gained through experience.
The third and final piece ‘Torsion’ choreographed by Russell Maliphant creates a new heightened tension with a poignant focus on individual movement. Box spotlighting around individual dancers creates isolation from the group unity and the movement takes on a more thrashing chaotic quality reminiscent of an aesthetic version of grotesque. This piece felt much darker especially at the point of a solo to the sound of thunder and rain fall. The sound environment is layered as dancers enter and exit the stage, with the aural speed increasing there are quicker changes between groups such as the six and four. This build towards climax includes remarkable use of innovative contact work. The interlacing of body parts are intricate and provisioned to perfection, complex counter-balance and trust work is made to look effortless in a true feat of strength and technical ability.
In its entirety, I was captivated by the pure talent and movement sensitivity of the young men, who are living proof that men can dance. However the work has a Cunningham-esque feel of dance for dance’s sake. The hints of there being some deeper message or understanding underlying the work that were not fully explored, communicated or made accessible to the audience were a slightly infuriating aspect. I felt this left the piece lacking something in its overall impression, losing depth by not having a clear point to make or discussion to ignite. This being said, the extremely revered Cunningham to which I likened the work’s style strongly believed that dance was interesting enough without having meaning attached to it. I sit more in the camp of Graham and Isadora Duncan in the belief that movement comes from and should excite emotion from one human soul of a performer to others in the audience. This is merely a speculative reflection from one point of view however; in a universal sense the piece is highly enjoyable for a wider crowd than the dance community. Aesthetically pleasing throughout and dynamic, I was enthralled from start to finish. Be prepared to transfix your gaze on physical movement excellence.