You’ve probably heard of the BalletBoyz. Two former leading dancers with The Royal Ballet, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt have spent the last ten years, in short, making ballet and dance be cool. To start, that was by their own performances, at the same time they started making documentaries which soon were broadcast on national TV. There was “Strictly Bolshoi” which followed Christopher Wheeldon as he choreographed a new piece for the Bolshoi, and there was “Royal Ballet in Cuba” following their historic tour to the country. Then this Christmas there was “The Talent”, following the BalletBoyz’s latest venture.
Two years ago the pair decided to set up a new group of dancers and did something a bit risky – held open auditions. They let any guy aged 18-25 apply and watched them move rather than read CVs. The group would need to dance a range of contemporary styles so they needed ‘natural movers,’ which resulted in an eclectic mix of backgrounds from the classically trained to some with no formal dance training. In fact, only one of the eight dancers in the company had started dancing before the age of 16! This emphasises how important the other side of The Talent is – education. Running regular workshops while on tour and hosting a “BootCamp” in the summer they work hard to push boys “past common perceptions and engage with their imaginations”, great stuff!
Forming this group, the BalletBoyz started to put together pieces for them to perform. They adapted pieces that Trevitt and Nunn had performed themselves (for example Torsion), commissioned other pieces (such as Alpha) and even held ‘auditions’ for choreographers to work with The Talent (resulting in Void). The documentary also showed their trip to Ethiopa where they worked with Adugna Community Dance and Theatre Company to create a piece dancing with both able-bodied and disabled Ethiopian dancers. Truly inspiring stuff!
So I headed to the Theatre Royal in Bath with high expectations. I had seen some all-male pieces before (notably Folio by ARB and Men Y Men by ENB) but never an entire evening of such works. The program of the evening would feature three very distinct pieces: Torsion, Alpha and Void. Before I went to my seat though, I simply had to buy one of the coolest T-shirts around: “Real Men Wear Tights”! I know what I’ll be wearing to class this week…
Torsion (Choreography: Russell Maliphant, Music: Richard English)
First up was Torsion, originally choreographed for Trevitt and Nunn back in 2002 before being re-worked for The Talen in 2010. Opening with six dancers, each contained in their own box of light, the start concentrated mainly on the upper body with precise and intricate movements.
This was segued with a rather humorous soundbite into a pair of duets. The dancers were completely in synch with each other resulting in a delightfully smooth sequence. Starting with an almost teacher-pupil feel, one member of each duo put the other in successive poses. There was a fantastic floor solo by Taylor Benjamin which intruded on the pairs before he moved back off stage, after which it seemed the roles in each duo had reversed.
Following this was my personal highlight of the piece – an amazing solo by Leon Poulton. With definite balletic roots (such as a sequence in croisé fifth with almost tongue-in-cheek ecarté tendus) the solo morphed into contemporary style. Whilst hitting some stunning lines Poulton also showed skilled floor work, including an amazing sequence of turns en ménage.
The smoothness of Poulton’s solo contrasted the next duet which involved two dancers exerting opposing forces on each other. A masterclass in strength and balance work it was an impressive sequence, including a rather staying image of a back cambré lift resulting in a crucifix-like pose. As the other dancers rejoined the piece for the finale they showed perfect synchronicity in some challenging moves as the piece concluded. An awesome work!
Alpha (Choreography: Paul Roberts, Music: Keaton Henson)
Before the next piece there was a small video segment projected onto a screen on the stage. Showing a snapshot of their rehearsals it was a great way to engage the audience during their set/costume change. It made me wonder why other dance companies don’t use this idea – sure it wouldn’t really work somewhere like the ROH, but would be perfect for someone like Rambert.
Alpha started with seven of the dancers in a tight circle, crouched together. One breaks from the circle and starts a reflective solo whilst the other guys remain motionless. Shelina Somani’s costumes were perfect for this piece, reminiscent of Shaolin monks. Indeed, the whole piece had an almost meditative feel, a lot maturer and deeper than I expected from a choreographer who’s CV consists mainly of working with chart musicians!
The music was simple and gorgeous, a recording of Henson playing guitar and singing. Thanks to the video intro it seems that Henson was there during the creation of the piece, playing live for the guys during rehearsals – something that surely made the choreography even more tailored to the music.
As for the dancing – it was simply beautiful. My particular favourite was a quartet danced to a piece of music with the line “Dear widow” in it (there wasn’t a music listing in the programme). There was just a fantastic flow to the whole piece.
The final scene seemed, to play on the monk theme some more, almost sacrificial. Miguel Esteves was lifted, turned and thrown about as if in ofference to some unnamed deity. There was also that amazing throw of him straight in the air that, deservedly, is used as The Talent’s promo shot.
The whole piece was simply sublime and immediately made me want to rewatch it as soon as it finished, a sign of a great piece.
Void (Choreography: Jarek Cemerek, Music: Ondrej Dedecek, Yoav and Ismael De Garay)
Void, the final piece of the evening, left me utterly speechless. Adrenalin-fueled, high-octane dance that was just unreal.
Opening with a video projected on a warehouse backdrop it followed the guys around city streets at night. Reminding me of Banksy and other street artists, this projection carried on playing as the dancers emerged, in hoodies and jeans. As the piece started in earnest I couldn’t help but think of it foreshadowing the summer riots and the anger that emerged from the youth of Britain during those times (this piece was premiered 6 months before the riots).
As the majority of dancers left the stage, Taylor Benjamin danced a mesmerising solo. As if being tailed by a gang he projected his unease and had me almost gasping as invisible punches and kicks landed on him. This violence continued into the next duet, a pair fighting with raw anger and testosterone. I have seen fight scenes in dance before, but never one that felt so ‘real’. I was amazed at how much control the pair must have had to execute the tense movements without injuring each other.
That was just the warm-up though, as suddenly the music changed and the company unleashed the most high-octane dance sequence I have ever seen. Literally throwing themselves at each other the group split into two factions at war. Their ferocity was palpable throughout the whole theatre. That being said, I couldn’t help but think how much fun the scene must be for the dancers!
As the guys surrounded Miguel Esteves he danced a solo as they watched on from outside his spotlight. Almost as if dancing for his redemption he moved with an almost yearning to escape. The lights lowered and the finale began with the dancers in silhouette against a brightly lit backdrop. As the dancers moved in complete unison the piece rose to its finale, highlighting the strength of this small company.
As Void concluded a massive rush of applause rose for The Talent, along with a fair few whoops and whistles. Every single one deserved for the energetic and skilled performance they all gave.
So, in short, BalletBoyz: The Talent rocked it. They proved that dance can be masculine, cool and current. They also made me immediately check if I can make any of their performances at Sadler’s Wells in March. And tomorrow, when I’m in the studio practicing, I’m going to use them as inspiration to hold my head a little higher, add a little pride to my movement and testosterone to my steps. After all, “Real Men Wear Tights”.
Until next time, keep dancing!