BalletBoyz – The Talent at Deloitte Ignite 2014
The Murmuring, MeTheus, Mesmerics
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
16 September 2014
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan
The BalletBoyz – The Talent company are a good fit for the Deloitte Ignite festival at the Royal Opera House – it’s edgy and about new ideas and that’s exactly where the original Boyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, have been coming from since 2001 when they first formed their own company. It’s morphed since into a contemporary male group of 10 dancers, not particularly ballet-focused any more, and with Nunn and Trevitt no longer dancing. It’s 18 months since they last premiered anything and this bill commissioned two rising choreographic stars and added in a trusted piece they commissioned 11 years ago from Christopher Wheeldon. It’s not clear if this bill, or parts of it, will have an extended life – in October/November the company tour to the USA and Italy with their last bill (work by Maliphant and Scarlett) and in January 2015 they unveil a new full-evening work at Sadler’s Wells.
The Theme of this year’s Deloitte Ignite festival is myth (particularly Prometheus and Leda and the Swan) and I think you’d say that the Boyz didn’t take it particularly to heart – only one of the 3 pieces was stated to be inspired by Prometheus and that link was hard to fathom. Not a problem to me and happy to see new dance created from any inspiration. Of course commissioning new work is always something of a lottery – sometimes you all strike gold and sometimes you don’t. Unfortunately there was no striking of gold in the first and longest piece of the evening – Alexander Whitley’s The Murmuring. It had a rather menacing Judas Tree feel to it without any particularly discernible story (though a dramaturg is credited) and the programme offers no help, not even printing the Robert Burns and Michel Foucault quotes that were briefly projected at the start and end of the piece. There were also snatches of indistinct video projected at times – at first I thought it was an abstract pattern based on a close look at knitwear, but it may all have just been a man’s body. If you are starting to get the feeling that I lost the will to live for its 28 minutes, you are both right and wrong. Much of the work hangs around the dancers acting as a connected group, both pushing and pulling each other around, with different members being ejected, all to a muffled ominous electronic score… but about 2/3 of the way through suddenly you get trios of dancers really opening the taps with animated lifts and ever-evolving and rotating kinetics. I was in a row of scribblers and suddenly we all found reason to scribble – “At last” I silently thought. I’ve spoken glowingly of some Whitley works and see him as a rapidly growing choreographic talent (now with his own company as well), but at times he does come over as an intellectual, doing work for an audience of assumed intellectuals. We ain’t.
After the interval the evening picked up considerably. First this was with with Kristen McNally’s MeTheus – it had lights, it had choreographic variety, it had interesting music (Radiohead’s clever Jonny Greenwood) played live by strings from the London Contemporary Orchestra. I didn’t see how Prometheus might have informed MeTheus and, like the Whitley, there were sections where the group of dancers kept repeating phrases en masse (if with more pace and verve) but the great joy here was the duets, one macho military and a final gentle and caring duet – nothing smutty. There were other elements of story that I can’t fathom, but the movement drew me in and I’d love to see it again and make more sense of it. As with her contribution to the Royal Ballet School show, this is a McNally spreading her wings away from being seen as the wild and unpredictable joker in the junior choreographic pack. I like her sense of fun but I also like this more serious side because the movement is also fresh and unpredictable. Of all the ballet choreographers coming through I think hers is one of the most original voices.
The evening closed out with Wheeldon’s reworked (for men) Mesmerics. A glorious piece when unveiled in 2003, it remains a mini-masterpiece and the best of the night. To hypnotic Philip Glass – played live again – there is no dramatic subtext here, just contemporary ballet movement looking stunningly fluid and beautiful. It feels very otherworldly and mysterious – almost like Monotones II in having such a spellbinding ambiance. If so much modern work, rather like the Whitley here, has a depressingly grimy, urban feel, Wheeldon feels happily confident that the world is a fine place. That said, to be honest I think Mesmerics is a better piece on a mixed cast of great ballet soloists/principals, and Wheeldon’s reworking still leaves some fragments that test the less ballet-inclined boys in the troupe. But in whatever version you see it, your day will be a better one.
All up, the BalletBoyz continue to field interesting work and you’d be daft not to poke your head around the door – it runs until 27 September.