BalletBoyz: Fourteen Days

Choreography Javier De Frutos, Iván Pérez, Christopher Wheeldon, Craig Revel Horwood, Russell Maliphant / music Scott Walker, Joby Talbot, Keaton Henson, Charlotte Harding, Armand Amar


Sadler's Wells

From 10 October 2017 to 14 October 2017

Review by Vera Liber

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Whenever I think of the bunch of young men who make up BalletBoyz, eleven in number now, I see young Spartans sparring in a gymnasium or a palaestra. And so it proves in this programme of four new works and a familiar old one. Four short hors d’oeuvres before the interval and the main course after.

The idea was—from the extremely well connected original BalletBoyz and now artistic directors William Trevitt and Michael Nunn—to pair choreographers with composers and give them only fourteen days to produce a work on the theme of balance. Sounds like a challenging A-level project.

What pairings, though... Lucky Javier De Frutos gets the avant-garde Scott Walker for the eighteen-minute The Title is in the Text, the first and meatiest on the bill. I see music critics in the audience. Music is of necessity recorded (by Peter Walsh), there’s spoken text by Lisa Dwan, rap from Killa Impact, Metro Voices choir: it’s the usual complex mix from Walker.

De Frutos has worked with the Boyz before on an autobiographical Fiction where he used a ballet barre. Here he has a seesaw, taking the balance theme literally. It is the best of the bunch. Contrapposto (counterpoise) is the word emblazoned on the screen at the end in case we don't get the wonderful classical sculptural images held on that changing incline.

Look at and listen to what the human is capable of. Apocalyptic industrial white noise, high-pitched voices growing louder, alarum bells, edgy silence, explosions, a collective scream, panpipes, a lyrical moment, then bombs boom in the distance, foghorns, teeth-aching static, Walker’s score is one for the end of the world.

All the while, the nine boilersuited Boyz come and go, testing themselves on that seesaw in various weight-shifting arrangements. The iconic photograph of Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima flashes through my mind’s eye: the camera shutter clicks, and the frieze is frozen. Snapshots of a mythological heroism; balance and imbalance; trust and co-operation as they walk that plank. Balance of power. So the world tilts.

Joby Talbot, Christopher Wheeldon’s composer of choice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Winter’s Tale and much more), is paired not with Wheeldon—just to rock the boat—but with Iván Pérez for his Human Animals. The music is mesmeric but it can’t hide the banal vocabulary of the choreography.

Some choreographers need the music to create; some can create in silence and then add the music. Pérez chose the latter for his thirteen-minute piece. A live orchestra tunes up at the back of the stage and a man in brightly patterned shirt over underpants—the better to see his legs—circles the central spot.

Paws the floor, round and round in dressage he goes. A group of four joins him and follows his lead in walking, trotting, cantering—clip clop sounds from the orchestra, we’re in no doubt this is about horses, till the music changes from metronomic to lush, jazzy, cabaret clubby, and the human animals start high kicking.

Wheeldon, who goes back a long way with Trevitt and Nunn, gives them an eight-minute duet to music by Keaton Henson. Titled simply Us, it is what one expects from him. Jordan Robson and Brad Waller, bare-chested, grapple in a male love pas de deux. Patroclus and Achilles come to mind.

Henson’s music is elegiac, gentle, the lovely strings make me think of Britten. Is this a remembrance of time past? Of soul mates, who circle each other like prizefighters, but whose gestures are tender?

Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood’s The Indicator Line strives for musical theatre narrative. Who is that guy in military red jacket, ordering them about? They rip it off him and he becomes one of them.

There’s tap, a military drill chorus line of ten Boyz and I think of the Tiller Girls, not least because Charlotte Harding’s heavily percussive modern music turns jazzy, emotive and moody big band sound.

It’s a relief to watch Russell Maliphant’s thirty-minute 2013 Fallen. It makes my evening. This is the real deal. Michael Hull’s lighting shrinking and expanding the stage is the only set Maliphant needs.

French-Moroccan film composer Armand Amar’s Middle-Eastern layered beats and rhythm immediately takes me back to Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. It’s nothing like of course, but yet it is in its repetition and essence.

Men relaxing in between battle, dancing in concentric circles, petals and stamen of a flower, aggressive ground crawls turn soft and fluid, but the martial moves also speak of pain and fear.

Are they in captivity or in that place between life and death? Are they in Hades? Interdependent, they climb shoulders to make lookout towers, they fall but are caught; they crouch and spin on their knees, slowed down capoeira-inflected moves very beautiful.

Brothers-in-arms, they rise and fall to the captivating binary sounds of a tabla, hearts beating together. Martial moves, in formation and out, fulcrums for each other, timing is crucial in dance and in war.

At times Philip Glass-like in its minimalism, Amar’s composition is inspiring and infectious. Its tempo increases, the story comes to its climax. Acrobatic, gymnastic, the Fallen men finish where they started in that circular folk dance. Life is cyclical. Hearts as one, they will go on.

Fourteen Days is touring across the UK.