Balletboyz: the TALENT
alletboyz: the TALENT
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
March 29–April 2, 2011
Reviewed by Barbara Newman
Photo: Paul Roberts’
Alpha. Hugo Glendinning, Courtesy Balletboyz.
If you want to make a name for yourself, it helps to have a name already. In 2001, when Michael Nunn and William Trevitt established the company George Piper Dances, both men had sterling reputations as leading artists of the Royal Ballet. Widely liked, seriously respected, they developed a unique repertory, changed the troupe’s name to the Balletboyz, and enlivened each program with informal backstage videos.
Now, 10 years later, the second generation of the Balletboyz affectionately calls the founders “BalletDadz.” Chosen from an open audition for men aged 18 to 25 regardless of background or experience, the nine members of the new ensemble include professional dancers, a medal-winning gymnast, and one performer with no dance training at all.
Touring since 2010 as “the TALENT,” they have become a unit of striking physicality: powerful, muscular, sometimes aggressive, yet never overtly sexy or dangerously threatening. Their vocabulary draws on everything from ballet to breakdancing, relying heavily on the cantilevered counterbalances that spring from contact improvisation.
In rehearsal, without costumes or lighting, the three pieces on their current program would look remarkably similar. Having created Torsion as a duet, Russell Maliphant has expanded it for six dancers, who lift each other nonchalantly and pull one another like taffy. They move from isolated spotlights to simultaneous duets, partnering alertly but never hinting at private emotions or personal relationships.
After Torsion, a behind-the-scenes video transports us from the dancers’ initial audition to an intensive rehearsal period near a beach, cleverly entertaining us while they catch their breath and swap their blue jeans for loose, silky jackets and billowing knee-length trousers. Then, against a wash of apricot light, eight men explore subtle gradations of interdependence in Paul Roberts’ sinuous Alpha. Hints of command and submission ripple through them, even when they don’t touch. In the final section, one man yields himself trustingly to all the others, who wheel him gently overhead and toss him carefully through space.
More than 160 applicants answered the call to create a new piece for the group; of the five who worked briefly with the company, Jarek Cemerek emerged the winner. He set his Void against a bleak, black-and-white video of deserted urban streets, peopled only by the slouching dancers in hooded sweatshirts, the “hoodies” associated here with crude behavior and casual violence.
The dance begins on the screen, with the men struggling for dominance in nearly motionless pairs or marking their territory by patrolling it. Backed by the silent cityscape, they lope through the shadows onstage in hostile packs, falling, rolling, somersaulting, always rebounding with propulsive energy.
Feet rooted to the spot, arms reaching tentatively, a man stretches alone, assailed by the raucous score that seems to generate his fear and tension. Half fistfight, half seduction, a duet investigates rejection. Finally, the dancers circle the stage at a full run, hurling themselves daringly into flying, full-body confrontations that embody the explosive bravado of young men everywhere.