BalletBoyz Them/Us opened with a short behind the scenes video of the six dancers in the studio providing an insight into the self-created piece ‘Them’. What was lovely about the film was hearing from the dancers themselves as they talk about what it means to ‘them’ to create their own work, that brings together all their own individual and collective ideas into one piece.
The video also takes us closer to the dancers as people; we see them laugh, move, and do re-takes as they hilariously mess up and discuss their work as either a pasta (some like it to a bolognese, a cabonara) or a pizza scattered with various toppings. It makes us love the dancers before we even see them on stage. And then they are revealed as the curtain rises, as we find them sitting in a line staring back at us breaking through the performer/audience stage divide.
Dressed in multi-coloured tracksuits, they look like a BalletBoyz street crew about to head out into the urban jungle. Surprisingly the music is not a thumping bass, but a softer and slower plucking of strings that sets the scene for their parkour-infused adventure framed by a large scale steel cube.
Them works really well because it showcases each of the dancers different interpretation of the music, the difference in how they move, with some with fluid classical movements and others more ridged contemporary or modern as they come together to perform various arrangements, short duos, solos and group pieces that see them move as one seamless and continuous movement.
The use of the frame adds to the changing perspectives of the dancers, as they cleverly use it to dance on and hang off. The cube is moved and turned on its end with dancers laying on an edge, or perched up high.
This piece successfully shows how close these BalletBoyz are and how they work masterfully together as a company both on stage and in creating and presenting their own voice, a voice that resonates strongly but in a quiet way that is now showy, but with deference to the group and to each other as colleagues, friends and fellow artists.
After the first piece shows how BalletBoyz work as their own creators, Us shows how they are transformed by working with one of today’s most celebrated choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon.
Again we are given a video takes that us behind the scenes, as we hear from Wheeldon about his intentions as he heads into the studio with the BalletBoyz, taking only the emotional classical score filled with deep cello and high violin stings of Keaton Henson and the thought about a relationship between two men.
The clip shows the complete joy that Wheeldon finds in working with the versatile bodies and artistry of the dancers who can equally perform classical and contemporary movements with a beautiful ease.
The result of Wheeldon’s work with the BalletBoyz is a truly stunning piece. Us is a layered and emotional journey with a continuously flowing movement that feels like watching musical notes floating across the stage, as each step leads to the next and is affected by the other, never ending revealing a deeper level of feeling.
Given this is a short piece, is it exceptional. Wheeldon has drawn out from the BalletBoyz an essence that melds through each moment and each scene. The piece opens with the dancers dressed in long tailed grey shirts, as one they move as an ever-forming puff of smoke. The detail in the choreography is immense, there is never a moment without touch, creating an intimacy between the men; a hand is placed on another’s heart, they embrace, their bodies roll over another, they lift and pull each others’ arms and legs as they melt deeply into the floor or rise above under the dark moody lights.
Us moves through a further layer with the dancers returning to the stage with their grey shirts removed, pared down to their white almost undergarment type shirts, and then in the final scene Wheeldon gives us a beautiful bare chested duet that is utterly heartfelt and so emotionally moving, that it feels as though we’re witnessing a stolen moment not meant to be shared.
With rippling muscles the two men are completely open to each others’ touch that reveals their trust as dancers and colleagues as they hold one another in high lifts and balances and fall into each others’ embrace. The dialogue between the men’s bodies is captured in the delicate moments where their fingers touch making the other’s body respond with a wave of perpetual motion, their shoulders meet, their foreheads touch. It’s an incredible duet that could be performed as a stand alone piece, but brings them and us together in a shared moment of true artistry.
Reviewed at Vaudeville Theatre on 3 June 2019.