Life

Javier de Frutos (choreography), Pontus Lidberg (choreography), Ben Foskett (music)

BalletBoyz

Lyric Theatre at The Lowry

On 28 March 2017

Review by Martin Thomasson

Imagine you were given the chance to write your own obituary. That’s how Javier de Frutos has interpeted the invitation to contribute to BalletBoyz latest show, Life. And because this is Javier de Frutos, the result, “Fiction”, is no morbid contemplation of mortality, but a vibrant, riotous and deliciously entertaining creation.

The set recreates a dance studio, opening into the wings, with ballet boyz hanging around, stripped for action (not too stripped, I should add, for those familiar with de Frutos’s own performance history). The main feature of the set is a long metal barre, somewhat reminsicent of a barrier on an old football terrace. This prop is both stable enough to sit on, walk along and swing over and under, yet light enough to be shifted around the stage. James Francombe’s restrained lighting design is perfect for the needs of this piece. (If only the music could be live—I know, the expense, the expense!)

The recorded voice of Jim Carter begins reading the “obituary” of Javier de Frutos who, according to this fiction, has been despatched by a plastic shard of scenery that worked loose from its moorings. As Carter reads though some of the accomplishments of de Frutos’s life, the dancers contort and manoeuvre around and over the barre. At points, the narrative halts and rewinds, as if Carter is correcting his recording. At these moments, the dancers also “rewind” and reprise their most recent movements.

Imelda Staunton’s voice now joins Carter’s, overlapping rather than synchronising with his (as if there are several ways to review a life, just as there are multiple ways to perform the steps of any dance). Later, the voice of Derek Jacobi will do a similar job. As the voiceovers progress, the words sometimes give way to Ben Foskett’s specially-commissioned and apposite music.

And now, a story begins to unfold. One of the dancers, Marc Galvez, smaller and seemingly more vulnerable among this strong and occasionally aggressive group, begins to be used almost as the plaything of the others; they block him, lift him and pass him one to another. At times, he tries to break loose, almost leaping into the audience, but for others restrainting him. The dancing here is at its most bold and trusting.

More than once, Galvez’s character seems to see something in the distance, something the others cannot see, and it draws him onward. We begin to wonder if this is de Frutos’s own life journey, a sense that is underlined when, towards the end of the piece, this character becomes the choreographer for the others—instructing, demanding thier best, and then joining in with their exhuberant achievements.

There are often too many wonderful things going on at a time for us to take it all in, and that is all part fo the joy of it.

“Fiction” is de Frutos and the BalletBoyz at their best, a truly marvellous thing to watch. It brings a fair part of this audience to its feet. As de Frutos has said, his work banishes all trace of that British sterotype; the stiff upper lip.

Life opens with a very different newly created piece: “Rabbit”, by Swedish choreographer, Pontus Lidberg.

A bare set, blocked on three sides by full-length drapes. A solo dancer holds centre stage while, upstage far left, a character with a rabbit head sits motionless on a swing (the kind that might hang from the bough of a tree). Soon, the man draws the rabbit-headed creature into a pas de deux, graceful and intimate.

This bond is jarringly broken by the arrival of a gang of rabbit-heads, leaping and sliding from left and right, surrounding the man, menacingly. Boisterous rabbit-head games break out, with the man soon excluded from the energetic shenanigans. He retreats to the swing, with his back to us all.

Another man (more confident, perhaps) appears and joins the cavorting. As the rabbit-heads slowly exit, the new man moves to the loner, lifting him from the swing and into a final pas de deux. But the piece closes, with a lone dancer on stage. It is as though, beginning alone, we find our partners, our gangs, but must, in the end, be alone.

Lidberg’s piece has style, energy and grace and is beautifully danced, but the night, as we might have guessed, belongs to Javier de Frutos.

As all wise folk know, Life needs its “Fiction”.