Artistic Directors: Michael Nunn OBE &William Trevitt OBE
Choreography: Liam Scarlett &Russell Maliphant
Music: Max Richter &Armand Amar
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
When in 2010, a decade into the BalletBoyz story, it became clear that Michael Nunn and William Trevitt were nearing the end of their performing careers, they made the risky decision to stop dancing themselves and take their company in an audacious new direction.
They auditioned hundreds of young men with different dancing backgrounds – or none, chose eight, called them the ‘The Talent’ and sent them out front as a kind of non-singing, all-dancing boyband. The risk paid off. Audiences loved it and the pair’s classical approach to honing their young charges into a proper company quickly resulted in a new all-male dance company capable of performing bold and challenging choreography.
Five seasons later, although they like to keep elements of the ‘lads dancing’ iconography, The Talent are a leading, award-winning UK dance company. There are now ten. Dancers have come and gone, although Leon Poulton and Matthew Rees – the BalletBoy famously without a dance background – survive from that original line-up. The Talent are currently a diverse and distinctive mix of young UK and European dancers from some of the leading dance schools and offer a satisfying blend of classical and contemporary technique.
This is the second wave of touring for the current repertoire. The Boyz perform two new works choreographed on them by rising Royal Ballet choreographic star Liam Scarlett – himself only 26 – and long-time BalletBoyz collaborator Russell Maliphant.
The company have traditionally used film in addition to live performance and both pieces are preceded by a short documentary of the boys in rehearsal and development and interviews with the choreographers, discussing the challenges of creating the work. Interesting as this is, and the Maliphant film actually looked rather beautiful with the projection slicing through the growing haze on stage, it is questionable how necessary these explanations are when the work itself is so able to speak for itself. As is, it forms a mixture of useful information and male dancer porn, reinforcing the previously-mentioned ‘lads dancing’ mythology.
Liam Scarlett’s Serpent is a remarkably beautiful piece of work. Set to the achingly mournful strings and piano of Max Richter’s music, it is firmly rooted in classical expressiveness, richly strewn with extravagant extensions and continuous, sinuous movement, broken by moments of stillness. Without the female dancers who usually lead his choreographic explorations, Scarlett has had to find new ways of partnering male on male. Serpent is a wondrous demonstration of the physical expressiveness possible within male dance. Strong, tender, occasionally gently combative, the piece draws out all the lyrical, sensual, muscular strength, flexibility and clarity of line men are capable of. The boys, dressed simply in nearly-nude athletic tights, look magnificent: stripped down to the physical perfection that dance and exercise has imposed on them and the beauty and intensity they are capable of expressing through movement. Michael Hulls creates glorious washes of colour and light, with the simple backdrop of a gently rippled cyclorama that echoes the sound of water that punctuates the music. Serpent is powerful and moving.
Russell Maliphant’s Fallen is more modern-contemporary in style. This is an extremely physical group work full of repeated motifs and grinding circular movement suggestive of men working together in tough conditions, punctuated with beautiful partnering and solo work. Repeated planked lifting of the dancers and their manipulation and positioning, combined with the darkly dramatic lighting, heavy with green, the dancers in drably simple costumes and the haze that cloaks the stage, creates a strong impression of men endlessly loading and reloading artillery with massive shells – the lifted dancers. Add the name ‘Fallen’, and this resonates as an homage to the desperate, gritty all-male environment of conflict.
The BalletBoyz successfully shook off the potential gimmickry of the Talent concept on their first outing. Five years on, they are a highly-successful force to be reckoned with in the dance landscape and offer a welcome celebration and exploration of the emotional and physical power and beauty of men dancing.
Runs until 5 February