Michael Nunn and William Trevitt never fail to surprise: this latest double-bill for their ten-strong all-male dance company is a case in point. It’s an evening of startling contrasts in style and approach, which may leave you feeling slightly baffled initially, but which has enough compassion, thoughtfulness and humour in it to leave a lingering impact.
First up is Rabbit by the Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Rabbits may indeed be a potent symbol of life, but the bunnies that appear here seem to offer a stranger, sometimes more sinister prospect than that. Indeed, when the first of the Boyz we see kitted out in a large furry bunny head rises from the swing he’s been sitting on at the back of the bare, crepuscularly lit stage and engages in a duet with Bradley Waller’s quietly introspective man, there’s more than a touch of Donnie Darko about the whole thing. What also strikes you is the liquid quality of Lidberg’s choreography – the delicately precise control and soothing fluidity of the movement is beautiful, and beautifully realised by the dancers. And, given the challenge of performing in full headpieces, you can only feel admiration for the cast members who don them.
Loneliness pervades this piece, even as more rabbits and other men wash on and off the stage. Waller’s character searches for a way to fit in amid the tumble of life on show, set to Gorecki’s unsettling Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka, which switches and wrongfoots you with its alternating blend of quietly mournful piano, strings and tolling bells, and overwhelming crashing dissonance. In the manic polka section, bunnies skip furiously with swinging arms, leapfrog, cartwheel and roll, while Waller goes and sits quietly on the swing. There is comic franticness and gentle yearning here – life, Rabbit seems to want to tell us, is not that easy; but it tells us so with tenderness.
The fiction concocted by choreographer Javier de Frutos for Fiction is that he has died, hit by a piece of scenery that fell as the BalletBoyz were performing his latest piece. With all ten Boyz lined up in rehearsal gear at a barre, the news is relayed to us in the form of de Frutos’s obituary, read out in delightfully round tones by Jim Carter, with later amusing interventions from Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi. The dancers move to the rhythms of the words as to music, something emphasised by the repetition as Carter “fluffs” a line and goes back. But the jerking, staccato steps and bends are also a reaction to what’s happened. And as Ben Foskett’s music takes over, Marc Galvez is the dancer most affected by the event, struggling against the others violently, then moving with a dazed, somnambulist detachment as the rest of the group try to look after him.
Back to the obituary. There is no lack of material in de Frutos’ life and he’s happy to let us laugh about some of the more outrageous occurrences. But there are also sobering moments – the “queen of offending” had a nervous breakdown, after all, after the savaging he received for the controversial Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez. De Frutos lets his piece become a little baggy around here, but it’s now, amid the jostling for barre space among the Boyz, that a hint of violence creeps in to this boisterous male group. There’s pushing, shoving, confrontation, isolation from the pack. Matthew Rees is forced on through one duet after another, as the Boyz filter on to the stage like layers building on a painting. As they flow and ebb around, over and under the barre, moving in a staggered synchronicity like a human executive toy, there’s a sense of thrusting, rowdy industry. Life goes on – and the last moments, with Galvez alone and lifted up by a glorious burst of Donna Summer’s Last Dance, suggest how we find a way through.