fri 19/08/2022

BalletBoyz at the Roundhouse, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

BalletBoyz at the Roundhouse, BBC Four

BalletBoyz at the Roundhouse, BBC Four

Beautiful contemporary dance from Scarlett and Maliphant, plus behind-the-scenes insights

Intense and enigmatic: 'Fallen' by Russell Maliphant© BBC/Balletboyz/Panayiotis Sinnos

What I want to know is: has there been a major upsurge in boys taking contemporary dance classes this year? And if not, why not? With the amount of male dancing in the media these days, the excuse that boys lack dancing role models just won't wash any more.

Last year we had Matthew Bourne and his mammoth Lord of the Flies project, which delivered dance workshops to 6,000-odd men and boys and performed with a different cast of locally-based amateurs in each of its 13 locations. Earlier this year, BBC Young Dancer of the Year was won by 16-year-old Connor Scott, a wild card from the contemporary category who oozed (raw) talent, and competed for his crown against four other men and only one woman; a ratio also replicated in the judging panel for that contest. Last month saw David Bintley take television viewers through ballet's regal origins and the genesis of his all-male piece The King Dances, and now BBC Four brings us a film featuring male directors, dancers, and choreographers: not a single woman is seen on screen. 

BalletBoyz The Talent in Liam Scarlett's 'Serpent'The BalletBoyz – Michael Nunn and William Trevitt – are so indisputably the dance industry's standard-bearers for all-male ability that they named their 10-strong troupe "The Talent". TV audiences encountering the company for the first time might well think the allusion to the less artistic and more, ahem, aesthetic meaning of "talent" was deliberate, for on screen even more than in the flesh the physical beauty of these lithe young dancers is striking.

The hour-long programme intercut extensive footage from a live Talent performance at the Roundhouse in 2014 with brief glimpses of life behind the scenes. While this afforded Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant, the choreographers of the two pieces being performed, some screen time, it was not a choreographer, or even a company portrait: discussion was confined to the pieces at hand. Still, we got a sense of Scarlett and Maliphant's personalities and working styles.

Softly-spoken Scarlett hides a capacity for endearingly boyish enthusiasm under that quiet exterior, and his explanation of the snake-like flow he wants for his piece Serpent resonates with what we see of that piece's amazing fluidity during the performance. It's also interesting to learn that he encourages the dancers to vary the mood of the performance night by night. But although dancer Andrea Carrucciu told us he appreciates that chance to do the same steps with different expression, accompanying illustrative footage is lacking, a function no doubt of the tight focus on a single night's performance, but a missed opportunity nonetheless.

Russell MaliphantMaliphant (pictured left) also comes across as quiet and thoughtful, but rather more intense, an impression backed up by the mood of his piece Fallen. Where Scarlett's Serpent (pictured above) has Elysian lighting and a smooth Max Richter score for its supple pas de deux, Fallen takes place in a world of olive drab and deepest brown, a vaguely military place and one where, for all the dancers' grace, there's more sense of danger: falling could hurt, and the chittering voices, anxious strings and metallic thuds of Armand Amar's score don't seem to betoken anything benign. Maliphant himself admits there's a hint of the battlefield about it: I'd go as far as to say that the charged, enigmatic Fallen is what his (WWI-themed) Second Breath for English National Ballet should have been, but wasn't.

Beaming contemporary dance of this quality into living-rooms can only be a good thing, so hats off to all concerned. It would have been even more of a good thing if there had been some screen time for Michael Hulls, the visionary lighting designer who lit both pieces. I could also have stood seeing more of the ever-telegenic original Boyz, Nunn and Trevitt, who, directorial roles aside, set the scene for all-male dance like this with their own distinctive style of duetting. And aren't we all glad they did?


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