BalletBoyz theTalent 2014

Posted: September 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on BalletBoyz theTalent 2014

BalletBoyz theTalent, Linbury Studio Theatre, September 16

BalletBoyz The Talent in Christopher Wheeldon's Mesmerics (photo: Elliott Franks)

BalletBoyz theTalent in Christopher Wheeldon’s Mesmerics (photo: Elliott Franks)

The images in the program are familiar: semi-naked, muscular young men curving through the air or wound around each other like antiseptic ads for lycra. Last year this rather saccharine, homoerotic aesthetic permeated the stage work of the company as if choreographers Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett had been seduced into perpetuating the notion that a group of young men with fine physiques and plenty of testosterone think only of dressing down, playing war games and showing off to each other. This year’s trio of Royal Ballet choreographers — Alexander Whitely, Kristen McNally and Christopher Wheeldon — seems capable of breaking this spell, but what will the company look like if they are successful?

Whitely seems most susceptible to the company aesthetic in his The Murmuring. He projects a quote from Robert Burns on the backdrop that proves prescient for the evening, if not for the work itself: Look abroad thro’ Nature’s range, Nature’s mighty law is change. Ironically, his groupings of undulating bodies facing some unknown challenge in the downstage wing alternating with a cypher-like semicircle of young men watching one of their own writhing in the middle seems business as usual: dynamic shapes of muscular isolation and contortion in short athletic bursts of mock aggression that just as quickly wind down into ambulatory mode before starting up again. Like the lighting by Jackie Shemesh Whitely focuses on the bodies of the boyz and in so doing his choreographic idea is subsumed.

In Kristen McNally’s wittily titled Metheus it is her choreographic idea that begins to draw attention away from the dancers, as much by pattern as by humour (a much-needed ingredient for the company). With live music by Johnny Greenwood, comic lighting cues and some playful characterization, Metheus pries open some unused potential of the company. By the end of the evening Wheeldon has continued the process by putting the boyz through their dancing paces in Mesmerics, coaxing them through the complex rhythms of four Philip Glass compositions (played live) in some seriously classical choreography that tests their technique and stagecraft to the limit. But a funny thing happens: the boyz’ aesthetic has not prepared them to deal with this level of sophisticated choreography and although they manage to keep the energy going their manufactured personality drops away. Artistic directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt make the mistake of projecting a gratuitous promotional film of the company between Metheus and Mesmerics as if to resuscitate their aesthetic, but it only serves to emphasize how much McNally has already challenged, and how much Wheeldon is about to challenge the status quo: mixed messages that brand the evening’s bill as neither one thing nor the other.

 


BalletBoyz: the Talent 2013

Posted: February 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on BalletBoyz: the Talent 2013

BalletBoyz, the Talent 2013, Arts Depot, February 18, 2013

theTALENT13

When I was living in Montreal there was I restaurant I enjoyed every now and then whose attraction was its single menu. If you wanted a lettuce and walnut salad to start, steak and chips as a main course and profiteroles for dessert, this was the place to go. The food was always good, the surroundings elegant, and you always had to book a table. It was called L’entrecôte Saint-Jean, it was centrally located on Peel Street and it’s probably still there and thriving.

Co-founders and artistic directors William Trevitt and Michael Nunn have adopted the same strategy for BalletBoyz: you know what is on the menu, the meat is fresh, the service is good, and it’s best to book in advance. I saw the company in 2011 when it was just The Talent and Russell Maliphant had reworked Torsion for the company with lighting by Michael Hulls. What has changed this year is the commissioning of a piece by Liam Scarlett, recently appointed Artist in Residence at the Royal Ballet and arguably ‘a hot ticket’. BalletBoyz has an unequivocal finger on the zeitgeist.

The short film projected before the show is at once an introduction to the brand and an ad for the product. The filming (by Nunn and Trevitt) is excellent at capturing a lively, smiling camaraderie among the dancers; youth, strength and beauty are the message. Also innovative is a filmed interview with each of the choreographers that screens before their respective works. Scarlett says that in his choreography for the Royal Ballet it is the women who drive the work. What will he make of the men? Can he teach them to drive? He seems unsure. As Serpent proceeds from languid, swan-like arm work and rippling backs through a series of duets, quartets and solos, male sinuousness and strength have by default taken the wheel, but the snake seems satiated and ends up going to sleep in the position in which it started. Scarlett seems satiated, too, seduced perhaps by the hypnotic sameness of the BalletBoyz physique into creating a homo-erotic conflation of the myths of Icarus and Narcissus that raises the display of male bodies to a level of advertising but never stays far off the ground. Neither does the pastiche of Max Richter’s saccharine tracks from Memoryhouse and neither, surprisingly, does the lighting of Michael Hulls, which seems a little uninspired here (there was a delay of 30 minutes in the start of the show due to ‘technical problems’, so perhaps he was not able to deliver what he had intended). Choreographically, it is not so much what Scarlett has been able to do with BalletBoyz, but what they have been able to do with him.

Maliphant has worked with Nunn and Trevitt and BalletBoyz for 11 years, so he knows what’s expected. His choice of music by Armand Amar makes sure Fallen starts on a stronger beat than Serpent, and the boyz are put through their paces on the floor (where it is always difficult to see them) and in the air as they climb and spring up on each other but there is still a sense of not letting too much hang out, keeping the body beautiful in its sculpture form (more of Rodin’s influence, perhaps) with a circular, inward-focused choreographic development. No single dancer stands out; the ten men are unsurprisingly uniform in appeal, dressed in t-shirts and combat pants in battle green, echoing the palpable element of chic violence. Michael Hulls’ lighting design has more punch here than in Serpent, and has reminders, if not enough evidence, of how effective his lighting can be.

The printed program handed out to the public contains good publicity images, headshots of the 10 boyz on a first name basis, a list of tour dates and some wicked hyperbole like ‘This is dance at its most riveting and fearless. Talent? I should say so” from the Independent on Sunday. It is more like a flyer than a program. Perhaps it is the flyer. If you want to know what works are being danced, however, you have to buy a glossy program but surprisingly there is nothing in it about the works — apart from the credits for choreography, music and lighting — but lots about the company and the dancers: BalletBoyz seems to be all about image over content. The glossy program is prefaced by a high-pitched message to ‘Dear Audience’ signed, ‘love Michael and Billy’. So what is the message? ‘Welcome to our latest show…which sees us carry on from where we left off last season…’ The menu hasn’t changed, but looking at the 29-date tour, BalletBoyz, like L’entrecôte, have clearly got a winning formula.