BalletBoyz The Talent in The Murmuring and Mesmerics

Choreographed by Alexander Whitley and Christopher Wheeldon
Richmond Theatre

Mesmerics Credit: Elliott Franks
The Murmuring Credit: Elliott Franks
Mesmerics Credit: Elliott Franks

In the pattern they have established as founders and artistic directors of the all-male BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt open this nicely balanced programme with a film clip to introduce the company.

In it, choreographer Alexander Whitley refers to the inspiration of nature behind The Murmuring, which he created for them last year, quoting Robert Burns and referring to the massed flight of starlings, the influence of which is clearly seen in this ballet.

It is not birds but something like a rugger scrum that is seen emerging from smoky darkness in a ballet that is intensely masculine, danced to an electronic score that builds from mechanical throbbing and industrial horn sounds to booms and bells and what could be an overhead helicopter.

There are ten men in patterns that pair competition with cooperation, each one proving their worth to the group. From the moment we see them, they are constantly moving, one heading a chevron of bodies, at the same time supported and restrained, as the others swirl in a switch of position. The scrum parts and a body is left on the ground, repeatedly struggling to rise and collapsing. The movement passed on to the others and becoming increasingly more positive, an expression of strength not of weakness.

Within broad sweeping patterns of movement, individuals are constantly relocating. Circles may form and the group line up to watch individuals wrestle with each other or, in one powerful solo, with an unseen adversary. Flung limbs, twisting and floor rolls, bodies pushed away or thrown spinning across backs, a continual testing rather than confrontation, a trial of response and reaction to demonstrate ability to keep up with the complex manoeuvres of the group.

In their bare feet and shirts, singlets and work clothes, these men show a physical virility that is surprisingly sexless. These aren't men showing off to women or each other; in their tensions, they prove their ability and endurance. This isn’t about personal relationships but the need to belong.

The dance is divided into segments by film: first a pulsating mass that could be body cells, then soft-focused patches of light and, for the last, what starts off like police helicopter searchlights until gradually resolving and focusing into the body of a dancer. A weak image after the powerful ones made on stage that left me perplexed. But we all interpret dance differently: a programme quote from Michel Foucault hints that this may be about man in revolt, about the risks he will taken to avoid conformity.

The second half of the bill is Christopher Wheeldon’s Mesmerics to a score by Philip Glass. Originally created in 2003 and danced by Trevitt, Nunn and Oxana Panchenko, it has been developed into a piece for eight men, its classicism still apparent in this contemporary dance rendering.

It's a different dance vocabulary from Whitley’s that makes a beautiful contrast. There is an elegant lightness as patterns of movement flow through the company, angled and extended limbs, finely balanced lift. Much of it is danced as couples with a strong sense of relationship developing, though little suggestion of the erotic.

There is a feeling of equality and sharing and it is joyful. When the whole company spin in pirouettes their shirts flaring like mini tutus it is a giggle but its high spirits avoid any campness.

It is full of contrasts and its complex gymnastics are demanding but the company are up to it, though as they end up huddled on the floor there could be genuine exhaustion too after all their graceful effort.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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