thu 21/06/2018

BalletBoyz, Life, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

BalletBoyz, Life, Sadler's Wells

BalletBoyz, Life, Sadler's Wells

Controversial choreographer Javier de Frutos fakes own death, steals show

Raising the barre: BalletBoyz dancers in 'Fiction' by Javier de Frutos© Tristram Kenton

Hearing that both Javier de Frutos and rabbit heads appear in the new BalletBoyz bill might give you pause. A choreographer so unafraid of graphic content that he started his career with naked one-man shows, and later made a piece about the Pope so sexually explicit and offensive that he got death threats – do the rabbit heads mean we're in for some kind of furvert orgy?

Bradley Waller in 'Life' by Pontus Lidberg. Photo credit: Tristram KentonWell, the rabbit heads turn out to be in the double bill's other half, Rabbit by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg, and it's not exactly Like Rabbits. The piece opens and closes with a longing pas de deux, the first distantly tender, the last more intense (seeming needy) but what is being longed for isn't clear – is it love? belonging? forgiveness? Some dancers wear rabbit heads, some don't, but who is really human and what is humanity anyway? Lidberg's choreography leaves the questions dangling, while it shows flashes of strangeness and power – like having the massed rabbits hop threateningly on one leg – much of it is a fairly tame lyricism that washes soothingly but unmemorably over the eyes.

The rest of the visual setting is much more striking: lengths of white cloth that shift languidly in a breeze, lit in cool tones that move between pearlescent grey and Communist stairwell green, much as the score, Henryk Górecki's Little Requiem for a Certain Polka, moves between nocturne-ish calm and Modernist anxiety. The ten men of the BalletBoyz troupe wear shirts, trousers and braces combos that are either 1940s or contemporary hipster – we can't tell because of those lifelike, but understated rabbit masks. Coolly lit, stylishly put together, a little bit inscrutable, a little bit strange, a little bit threatening: Rabbit rings all your Scandi bells, but my pick of dance pieces in rodent masks (of which there are more than you think, by the way) is still Michael Keegan-Dolan's Rite of Spring, which shocks and shakes in a way this Rabbit just didn't.

Marc Galvez and BalletBoyz dancers in Javier de Frutos's' 'Fiction'. Photo credit: Tristram KentonDe Frutos's piece, Fiction, is an altogether more torrid affair, though the passions are not those around romantic love (or, thank goodness, the Pope), but around death. With winning panache, the choreographer stages the piece as a reaction to his own imagined death, complete with a voiceover obituary written by theartsdesk's own Ismene Brown. The dancers are in practice clothes with a studio barre, and this object acts almost like a rock, on which the waves of their high-running emotions break as they work through their "loss": they limbo under and fly over it, balance on and tumble off it, cling on to and ricochet away from it. Lithe little Marc Galvez (pictured above left) is the chief mourner – or is he the lightning rod for everyone else's feelings? Either way, he's mesmerisingly centre stage for much of the piece, his small size used to good effect as he seems to dance over the top of everyone else, like flotsam tosssed on a high sea.

Execution of dazzling fluency from the smashing young male dancers (ever growing in strength, poise and focus) and choreography from the top drawer of De Frutos's considerable talent, make it a visual feast; in fact, with its entirely stripped-down "set", Fiction is a reminder that you don't need any set or costume trimmings to shine when the dance is good enough. It's no less of an aural feast, with competing voiceovers reading de Frutos's obituary, an original score by Ben Foskett, and snatches of Donna Summer's belting soul-disco anthem Last Dance. Foskett's score is a cracker, achieving a range of moods from elegiac to caperish all in a jazzy minor key that, like the piece as a whole, hovers just the right distance from sentimentality.

This version of the BalletBoyz phenomenon, the 10-strong troupe of younger dancers which they used to call The Talent, hasn't been going long enough to start doing heritage programming à la Rambert, but if and when it does, I guarantee de Frutos's Fiction will be in the 'keep' pile.

  • BalletBoyz perform the double bill Life at Sadlers Wells until 24 April.
You don't need any set or costume trimmings to shine when the dance is as good as this


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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