sat 02/07/2022

Balletboyz, The Talent, Sadler’s Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Balletboyz, The Talent, Sadler’s Wells

Balletboyz, The Talent, Sadler’s Wells

The new boyz step into the Void, and come out as stars

Well, if you’re going to headline yourself in the title of your show "the talent", you’d better have some: audiences aren’t forgiving. William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, ex-Royal Ballet dancers headlining their own company for the last decade, have a history of these pre-emptive strikes – an earlier show was called Critics’ Choice – and they also have a history of living up to them. Fortunately for all, The Talent does too.

Trevitt and Nunn, now in their early forties, have retired from dancing and are planning their future as dance master impresarios. They began by holding an open audition: anyone – any male, rather, for they have decided on an all-male company – aged between 18 and 25 could apply, no matter what their background. Sixty showed up, and finally the nine who make up the current roster of Balletboyz were selected. But this is only part of the equation.

The second, perhaps even more thrilling part was an open call for choreography. For the raw truth is that good dancers are plentiful. Good choreographers are unimaginably rare. Over 160 choreographers produced work for this unique audition process, and one, Jarek Cemerek from the Czech Republic, now working in Denmark, was chosen to create a new work for the boys (excuse me, boyz).

And what a find Cemerek has proved to be. Void (main picture), his first major creation, is a pulsing, driving, compellingly theatrical event. Using back-projections of typical mean-street-ish settings, lit with noir-ish style and ferocity by Andrew Ellis, we have a long film opening to music by Ondřej Dědeček, Yoav and Ismael de Garay, conjuring up a world that is half created from Ed Ruscha’s paintings, half a rebuild of Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story.

Balletboyz_Torsion_1_Credit_Hugo_GlendinningWhen the nine hooded and thuggish dancers appear, they struggle, mirror, echo each other, all in a swirl of grey and black: what it is to be a man whose only manliness comes from conflict; what it is to be companions in a bleakly anonymous world that rewards only competition; what it is to be savage, but dependent. This is a subject worth exploring, and if it comes in an outward guise of a Fifties film, it is no worse for that. The piece is not perfect, and there are longueurs: the last section seems at odds with the narrative that has been established, and could usefully be cut. But Cemerek’s abilities - to stage a theatrical arc, to produce groups that build atmosphere with shape as well as with motion - are rare ones in the dance world. A talent to be cherished.

Void closed the evening. The opening was Russell Maliphant’s Torsion (pictured above right, photo: Hugo Glendinning), which in 2002 was Nunn and Trevitt’s own calling-card pas de deux. Now it has been reworked as a piece for six men, and in this all-male company seems to encapsulate some of the company ethos. Feet firmly planted, the subjects are weight and counterweight, focus and attention. The nine young dancers come manfully (sic) up to the task, producing individual performances of grace, and teamwork and partnering that would be impressive in dancers who had worked together for years. The most moving section, however, is the central solo, where Michael Hulls's beautiful lighting creates a silent core at the centre of Richard English’s electronic score. A single dancer swirls around the edge in a blinding series of knee turns – a moment of solitary personhood in a ballet of partnerships.

Balletboyz_Alpha_1_Credit_Hugo_GlendinningPaul Roberts’s Alpha (pictured left, photo: Hugo Glendinning) is the evening’s weak point. Not an outright failure, it is merely wannabe Maliphant, and as we have just seen the real thing, it feels bland. The music, by Keaton Henson – whose album Dear was so successful last year – is performed live by Henson, and is splendidly retro in its 1970s acoustic whine. But what it has to do with the action on stage is anybody’s guess. Roberts’s choreographic successes lie in television and pop, where it is natural that the music is never his choice. How odd that here he still appears to be so detached from such a crucial element.

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