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Ballet Boyz: Deluxe – BBC iplayer

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Choreographers: Maxine Doyle and Xie Xin

Celebrating their 20th anniversary, the Ballet Boyz company could not have expected 2020 to be more noteworthy. First seen live in 2019, their latest production, Deluxe, is now available to view online. Already having worked with choreographers including Matthew Bourne and Akram Khan, this formidable company, in a time of crisis, is bringing contemporary dance to a whole new audience.

Deluxe is a two-part production, moving from Bradley 4.18 (choreographed by Maxine Doyle), into Ripple (choreographed by Xie Xin). The company (Joseph Barton, Benjamin Knapper, Harry Price, Liam Riddick, Matthew Sandiford, Will Thompson and apprentice Daniel Baines) appear in both pieces.

The inspiration for Bradley 4.18 comes from Pictures on a Screen, a poem by Kate Tempest. Her work, musing on a character, Bradley, struggling to find his place in the world, is a full-blooded exploration of masculinity. Outwardly successful, he still longs for contact, whether it’s aggressive or benign. This piece looks at how Bradley might behave at 4.18am – by himself, with others. Doyle’s choreography works on familiar masculine tropes. Bradley walks onto the stage; black-eyed, heading home but another scrap is not out of the question. He boozily staggers, wired and twitchy. The promise of a fight becomes fulfilled in the final scenes, where the whole company ends up sprawled on the floor. The contact becomes familiar once the bloodlust has worn off. The lads hold each other up as they move onto their next destination. In the very final minute, we see Bradley hit the ground, a man falling through space. In a series of cleverly observed performances, we recognise that unable to articulate rage, fear or doubt, Bradley will repeat the same rituals over and over again.

Deluxe’s second piece, Ripple, takes us into a looser, freer language. The style is open-ended and expansive; the group dance as one, echoing each other’s movements. It’s a real gear shift, but one handled beautifully by choreographer Xie Xin.

A more abstract dance, Xin explores the theme of memory, specifically the energy that feelings and memories can have. The piece connects with Bradley 4.18 in that they both examine patterns: Xin’s choreography – bold, circular motions with the arms, dancers using their own momentum to move across the stage – explores the idea of breaking repetitive thought to create new psychological patterns. Bradley 4.18 is also stuck in a loop, but the possibility of breaking free seems less certain.

Ripple is less obviously masculine, markedly different from the taut, sharp lines of Bradley 4.18, but Ripple’s gentle lyricism is tempered by the group’s boundless energy. Working together seamlessly, they never stop or allow us to pause. Here, traditional narrative gives way to a dreamy, impressionistic performance. We move with the dancers through reveries and contemplations. The continual flow of dance means we cannot look away. Memory keeps pulling us back.

Ballet Boyz’s two-parter – while the parts may seem disparate, is brought together in its determination to explore how emotion can – and should be – articulated. Deluxe succeeds because of its refusal to shy away from complexity. In looking at modern masculinity and the fault-lines that occur, Ballet Boyz have created something that when viewed as a whole, is not only accessible, but also never once loses its sense of gravity.

Available here until 27 July 2020

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