BalletBoyz: Them/Us – Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreographers: BalletBoyz (Them), Christopher Wheeldon (Us)

Music: Charlotte Harding (Them), Keaton Henson (Us)

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Two very different sides of the BalletBoyz modern dance company are on display in their latest touring programme, Them/Us, as it makes its London debut.

The first piece, Them, is a choreographic departure for the company in that it has been devised by the entire corps of dancers, based on improvisations that were gradually workshopped into a common language of movement. The origins of the work shine through on stage: when working in pairs, the tracksuit-clad dancers often seem to explore situations where one dancer is steering the other, as one might do in a workshop exercise.

As a whole, the dancers’ movements are both staccato and fluid, reflecting Charlotte Harding’s violin-led score as it balances pizzicato playing and long, bowed legato movements.

Them’s crowning glory, though, is a large cuboid frame, which the dancers roll and spin around the stage. The company’s interactions with it – as cage, as climbing frame, as a throw of the die – help to elevate their work as what could otherwise have fallen back into an exercise of self-indulgence. And while the exploration of what ‘Them’ might mean in a dance context isn’t always clear, the fluidity of movement and, when needed, uniformity of coordinated movements make for a highly enjoyable piece.

It is the second half of the programme, Us, which really takes the breath away. The piece began as a pas de deux in 2017’s Fourteen Days, where the company worked with several different choreographers to create works in just two weeks each.

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has retained that core duet and, prompted by BalletBoyz founders Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, has crafted a prologue that examines what may have prompted these two men to dance together so tenderly.

Katherine Watt’s costume designs enhance this first half of Us, with the corps of six dancers outfitted in grey linen tailcoats. The effect, when paired with Keaton Henson’s intriguing score, is visually rich even without Wheeldon’s expressive choreography. As the jackets are gradually dispensed with, the diaphanous shirts beneath – the same cut as the jackets, but which flow and billow quite differently in response to the same movement – adds to the thrill of watching an ensemble at the top of their game.

And yet this prologue pales beside the original pas de deux, which brings the evening to a close. Watching it now, it seems remarkable that it originally came together so quickly, for it is quite the clearest, most sharply defined routine of the evening. Such a display of tender muscularity, at once both fraternal and romantic, is the highlight of the evening.

One might suppose that this story of two men emerging from a larger group to tell their own, very different tale of dance could be seen as an allegory for Nunn and Trevitt’s own twenty-year journey of leaving the Royal Ballet to form BalletBoyz. Or perhaps it’s a tale of two men breaking out of grey conformity to find love for each other. The joy of dance is that it can be either, both, or something completely different, depending on the imagination of the audience member. But that imagination, can only be fired by quality content, and Them/Us delivers.

Runs until March 9 2019 | Image: George Piper

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