BalletBoyz return to Northern Ireland with an energetic, diverse contemporary dance performance
'Royal Ballet reels as top dancers break away.' That was the headline in the London Daily Telegraph in late 1998, as six leading male dancers broke ranks to form K Ballet, named after one of their number, the virtuoso Japanese soloist, Tetsuya Kumakawa.
The Royal Ballet was performing at the Grand Opera House in Belfast when the news leaked out and suddenly the city found itself at the epicentre of a cultural storm, which would complete what was described as an annus horribilis for one of the world’s flagship companies.
But, as time went by, personality clashes introduced a sour note into the new enterprise and, three years later, two of the six, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, decided to form their own company, Balletboyz. In the context of what had gone before, it was a risky undertaking. 'It is a perilous venture,' said Trevitt at the time. 'But without taking risks, it's a pretty turgid life, isn't it?'
Risky and perilous are two adjectives that could easily be applied as a description of the ground-breaking work that the pair have gone on to produce. Now in its tenth anniversary year, and with a new generation of dancers on board, Balletboyz makes a brief but dazzling return to Northern Ireland.
In a breathtaking 90-minute performance at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey, nine thrilling young male dancers eloquently demonstrate the international pioneering force that the company has become. The show is entitled The Talent, and unashamedly claims its place in dance boyband territory. But that marketing line does them no favours.
Apart from the fact that these young guys are undoubtedly good looking and have huge appeal to younger audiences, there the similarity ends. There is nothing anodyne, artificially packaged or dumbed down about what they do or how they do it. Their impact relies solely on the exceptional quality of their dancing, their unbelievable stamina and commitment, the sublime standards of choreography, staging and lighting and the way in which individual personalities express themselves on stage.
Introductions come by means of an engaging short film, a medium with which Balletboyz have increasingly engaged over the years. It tells the story of how Trevitt and Nunn decided the time had come, as they put it, to ‘take a break’ and hang up their dancing shoes after 25 years of working together.
During an intensive recruitment process for a new troupe, background and training were considered secondary to the ability to dance. Once the nine were in place, they were taken away to exotic destinations, where they forged unbreakable personal bonds, a spirit of creative intimacy and unquestioning trust, all of which is wholly in evidence in the three contrasting dance pieces.
The performance begins with 'Torsion', choreographed by Russell Maliphant. Bathed in the swirling, soft-edged lighting effects of Maliphant’s creative partner, Michael Hulls - and performing to the sound of Richard English’s abstract industrial soundscape - Miguel Esteves appears centre stage.
Esteves is an astonishing young Portuguese dancer. He leads into an unfolding series of three complementary pas de deux, in which classical discipline, tensile strength and gravity defying lifts and combinations contrive to recreate images of industry and war through a series of constantly changing symmetries and soft landings.
Paul Roberts 'Alpha' is a feast for the eyes and the ears, thanks to Andrew Ellis’s misty lighting, Keaton Henson’s melancholy slide guitar score and Shelina Somani’s twilight-shaded baggy costumes. Roberts is a well-known commercial choreographer, and has worked with the likes of Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox and Pixie Lott. This composition, coupled with his choreography of the Balletboyz version of 'The Rite of Spring', makes for a heady piece of macho contemporary dance that ends with the image of a human river carrying along its hapless victim.
The evening closes with scenes of violence, as portrayed by the young Czech choreographer, Jarek Cemerek’s bleakly titled 'Void'. The stage is stripped back to its bare bones and the performance emerges from back-projected black and white footage of young hooded males, prowling the mean streets of an urban wasteland.
As the dancers appear on stage they circle one another like wolves, their nocturnal existence punctuated by sudden bouts of unprovoked anger and gang fights. The daring, nihilistic narrative, with music by Ondrej Dedecek and lighting and costume by Ellis and Somani, acquires a strange, cutting edge beauty as the fights and confrontations build into a series of balletic set-pieces. This mind-blowing climax brings the capacity audience to its feet.