It is incredible to think that it is seventeen years since Michael Nunn and William Trevitt formed BalletBoyz, a company which brings to dance the unique dynamic that occurs when men dance with other men whether as an ensemble, in small groups or pairs. Their current bill combines a revival of Russell Maliphant’s Fallen (2013) with four new pieces collectively headed Fourteen Days - the length of time the choreographers were given to create them. The other common factor here is the theme of balance.
And what a challenging and absorbing evening it makes! But then when you bring together a strong ensemble of dancers and five of our most exciting choreographers - and put them in tandem with cutting-edge composers like Armand Armar, Scott Walker, Joby Talbot, Keaton Henson and Charlotte Harding, well you expect creative sparks to fly.
Balance as the running metaphor and image is clearly established in the opening ballet, Javier de Frutos’ The Title is in the Text, as the lights fade up on two men on a see-saw: one on the grounded end, the other in the air gazing down on him. When the men with seeming, effortlessness, move and change places thus redistributing their weight, the angle of the precarious contraption naturally shifts. They are then either joined or replaced by other dancers, who test their skills and demonstrate with classical grace, the constantly changing movement of strength and weakness in, one assumes, the balance of power between human beings. Walker’s complex recorded score with its use of both a choir and spoken text suggests the ‘balancing’ of books and payments may also be involved in the exposition - and possibly answers the riddle of the title.
But it can be dangerous to be too specific in abstract dance. As Trevitt and Nunn explain in the programme, if "sometimes the choreographer has a very strong idea of what they want to achieve; sometimes they have absolutely no idea and wait till they’ve finished to try and find out what they were trying to say." As with great pieces of music, this type of ballet allows each member of the audience to take whatever inferences it can from what is happening on stage, then let their subconscious interpret the rest in the light of their own experience of life.
Trevitt also tells us that "this is one of the hardest shows we’ve done." Certainly, the amazing display of technical skills here - including some phenomenal, yet elegant, backward falls - bear out the extent to which the interpretation of ‘balance’ involves "trust, risk, strength and stamina."
With Iván Pérez’s Human Animal, a twelve-piece orchestra arrives on stage under the superb direction of Mark Warman, to accompany Talbot’s attractive score for, arguably, the most difficult ballet of the four. Yet, for me, it is the least satisfactory. The ‘animal’ part would appear to transform the dancers into work horses, doomed to paw and canter around the stage for what seems an age before demonstrating their ability to vary direction and even break away from their, possibly, enforced routine.
This example of the ‘imbalance’ of power in society also seems to be a theme of Craig Revel Horwood’s The Indicator Line, a somewhat theatrical piece, with slightly underpowered laser lighting. Revel Horwood’s discovery in the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? that his great grandfather in Australia was a champion clog dancer, has inspired him to create a chorus of pink-shirted dancers in braces who fall under the spell of a red-coated ring-master in a red jacket and clogs. It ends the first half on a high note.
Preceding it, however, is Christopher Wheeldon’s exquisite short ballet Us. Fast claiming his place as successor to Ashton and Macmillan as one of our foremost choreographers who is as happy working with Shakespearean plots as light-hearted Gershwin, Wheeldon’s pas de deux provides a moving celebration of the love that can exist between two men, realised without sentiment or unnecessary eroticism. For much of the time physically connected, when the men momentarily separate, we fear for them. The choreography captures the essence of meaningful human bonding, the warmth, the occasional tension, the need to be together, the need to sometimes to try and break away, fused by a muscular lyricism. These eight minutes are worth the price of a ticket alone.
Russell Maliphant’s Fallen, which provides the second half of the evening, brings together in one thirty-minute piece, many of the strengths of the first in a cohesive whole. The dancers’ khaki working clothes and the sombre pools of light have a threatening feel as the men prowl around the stage. Are we witnessing ritual here? But then, ritual is a part of all aspects of work and communal living. One is mesmerised by the fluidity of the movements as the men intertwine and roll over each other, or are interdependent one moment, confrontational the next. Armar’s score brilliantly supports the mood of the piece and the choreography. The piece is totally satisfying.
With consummate athleticism and musicality, the programme proves once again how this company breaks down and fuses the conventional genres to provide an absorbing evening of dance.
Until Saturday, 14th October and touring