The concept behind ‘fourteen days’ is simple – four choreographers are paired up with four composers and are given fourteen days to create new pieces of dance and music, all centred around the concept of balance and imbalance. This experiment in the artistic process formed the first half of the performance, and the results are mixed. Initially excited about watching an award-winning innovative dance company at the Exeter Northcott Theatre this week, I was disappointed by much of the choreography, although the immense ability, skill, strength and elegance of the dancers was exceptional.
The first piece, entitled ‘The Title is in the Text’, takes the theme of balance/imbalance literally with the whole piece centred around the use of a seesaw. Javier de Frutos’ choreography has the dancers pivoting, tilting, toppling and falling, exploring momentum and balance with rapid movements juxtaposed alongside moments of pure stillness. At times, the men work together in playful boyishness recalling a playground, while at other times the frantic movement of bodies combined with Scott Walker’s distorted score – that’s interrupted with sounds of political and economic uncertainty – creates a sense of competition and chaos.
Ivan Perez’s the ‘human animal’ came next, and I’m sad to say this one really was lost on me. The dancers stalk around in a circle in a flamingo like fashion, with the simple choreography of tendus, attitude en avant and jetés creating a rhythmic stopping and starting to the dancers’ movements. In the truly bizarre 15 minutes, I struggled to grasp the concept behind the repetitive, awkward choreography and the costume choice of flamboyant shirts and underpants. Perhaps this was about balance between movement and stillness, momentum and inertia, or the battle between the human and animalistic side of the self? To be honest, I’m really clutching at straws here. I’m no stranger to contemporary abstract dance – I think pushing the boundaries of ballet and contemporary beyond its traditional narrative format to explore concepts, ideas and emotions in new and diverse ways is brilliant, but sadly this time, it just didn’t work for me.
The third piece was by far my favourite. Christopher Wheeldon took the simple concept of balance and turned it into a powerful love story, of two bodies supporting and balancing each other in a dance of trust and companionship, simply entitled ‘Us’. There are moments of immense balletic strength, skill, and control matched with moments of pure tenderness and intimate delicacy. This invoked a highly emotional response that’s only heightened by Keaton Henson’ use of strings. This piece highlights everything that is great about Ballet Boyz and its challenging of traditional balletic gender roles and narrative. In this all-male pas de deux, the dancers’ create this sense of mutual support, trust and love by subverting the traditional male/female dichotomy of female daintiness and male strength found in traditional ballet. Instead, both dancers encapsulate both these qualities, allowing them to create such a powerful and beautiful piece of dance.
As a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, musical theatre and dance more generally, I was incredibly excited to see what Craig Revel Horwood would produce alongside Charlotte Harding’s musical score in the final piece of the fourteen days experiment. I was so disappointed. The only way I can really describe what I saw on stage was a frantic chorus line of what appeared to be workers battling against a tyrannical overlord. Perhaps this was a fight over the balance or imbalance of power between the two groups? The piece included shuffle ball changes, jazz turns and a chorus line formation – Revel Horwood’s musical theatre background came through strongly, and paired with Charlotte Harding’s percussion score, had a strong tap influence that emphasised the rhythm of the dance. Yet the result was confused, distorted and not particularly enjoyable to watch.
In contrast, the second half of the show was incredible. ‘Fallen’, choreographed by Russell Maliphant and set to a score by the French film composer Armand Amar, is nothing short of breath-taking. Winning the 2013 National Dance Award for Best Modern Choreography, the piece exemplifies everything amazing about this dance company. The piece is elegant, strong, acrobatic and skilful, with the dancers beginning in a double circle formation before embarking on a visual feast of lifts, throws, jumps, and turns, leaving me in total awe. The Ballet Boyz dance company are clearly talented, exceptional dancers. ‘Fallen’ and ‘Us’ demonstrate that with the right choreography, this dance company can push the boundaries of not only the artistic process but of ballet itself.
– Grace Fergusson
ALL IMAGES FROM: https://exeternorthcott.co.uk/calendar/balletboyz-fourteen-days/