If you missed seeing BalletBoyz this past weekend at the Duncan Theatre, you missed a terrific show.
First off, they weren’t really boys, or even Boyz for that matter. Composed of 10 handsome men whose lean and chiseled bodies moved in a way that was completely intoxicating, this outstanding British dance company gave a stunning performance that enthralled the Duncan’s sage audience from their first steps onstage to their very last.
The two works performed Feb. 2 were commissioned for the company and premiered together on the same program in 2013. Both are full-company works by two male choreographers who used all of 10 male dancers in a distinctively different manner. Although the works were quite similar structurally, the music, movement, lights and costumes were very different; thus, the two works contrasted each other nicely and balanced the program well.
Before each work, there was a short film presentation in which the two choreographers spoke about their creative process and the challenges (and new possibilities) they encountered while working with an all-male cast of dancers.
Choreographer Liam Scarlett, The Royal Ballet’s artist in residence (and one of the young darlings of the ballet world), talked about how exhilarating he found the strength and beauty of a male partnering a male and how it forced him to step outside of his traditional way of choreographing — demanding that he create a new movement language that would capture the different spectrum of the male’s physicality.
Using the romantic — and at times, almost painfully beautiful — music of award-winning British contemporary composer Max Richter, Scarlett created a mesmerizing work. A subdued sophistication permeated the choreography as Scarlett subtly explored the natural bond between men.
Serpent began with 10 figures lying curled on their sides — backs to the audience — as an arm arched upwards like a serpent uncoiling. Dressed in flesh tights with chests bare, the men continuously flowed into seemingly effortless lifts which were in actuality incredibly intricate. Unlike lifts in ballet, which tend to defy gravity, Scarlett used gravity and momentum to initiate a lift and combine it with the strength of both the lifter and the liftee to create a thrillingly different, airborne moment.
The focus of Serpent gradually flowed from 10 dancers to two, as Flavien Esmieu and Edward Pearce transitioned the first section of the work into the second. It was a welcome moment to be able to turn our focus to just two dancers as they executed the fluid movement with finesse. Next, the scope expanded as eight men partnered each other while two stood face to face, motionless amid the flurry of movement, as if looking at mirror images of themselves.
Again Scarlett narrowed down our focus with a solo for Marc Galvez, allowing us to appreciate the prowess of this individual dancer. Esmieu, a wonderful mover, returned later to dance alone framed by a vivid, neon-pastel lilac scrim. The choreography then expanded, ending as it began, with all the figures lying on their sides with an arm reaching up — all but one, who lay sideways caught in the arms of another, still reaching up but suspended above the others.
In the second work, Fallen, by Russell Maliphant, another young British choreographer, the mood was less subdued. Using the rhythmic music of Israeli composer Armand Amar, Maliphant created a work that was grounded in contact improvisation. He videoed the dancers in rehearsal, chose sections that he then dissected, redirected and even completely reversed, creating very masculine movement that looked seemingly familiar but — on closer viewing — had an interestingly different look to it.
Fallen began with two circles of men. Half the men faced each other in a center circle with their arms interlaced, creating a personal interior place as the other men followed each other executing low-crouched, military-type moves in an outer circle that always moved in counter-direction to the inner circle, creating a combination of guerrilla tactics and folk dance.
The ritual feel in Fallen, with its slow dynamic build, was enhanced by the synchronized changes in the lighting and music. Intensifying until the two concentric circles merged and became a chain of slithering, knee-turning soldiers, the focus then shifted to one, Harry Price, who was left alone in a large downward light. Was he captured or abandoned?
Two duets followed. First, Mathew Saniford and Esmieu, and later, Pearce was joined by Price. Their movement wasn’t muscular. It maintained a kind of purity — even a sophistication — as it seemed to reach back to past times and illustrate the inherent power in male energy.
The title of the dance, Fallen, seemed to refer to the victims, both the soldiers and the civilians, who are the casualties of mankind’s awful and unstoppable creation — war.
In the final section, there was a outbreak of lifts that utilized one or more men as a base on which to perch, sometimes changing momentum at the top and retrograding the descent, or other times just pausing seemingly off-balance and asymmetrical at the peak of an ascent.
In the post-performance talk-back, one dancer (describing the creative process) said that it took a whole day of very intense rehearsal to create and master just one of the 25 lifts woven into the last section. The other excellent dancers in the ensemble were Edd Arnold, Simone Donati, Sean Flanagan, Jordan Robson and Bradley Waller.
BalletBoyz will be performing at 8 tonight in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $15-$49. Call 954-462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org.