Music by Barry Adamson
Russell Maliphant – Choreography
Michael Hulls – Lighting
[Costumes with thanks to Neil Cunningham]
Music by Philip Glass
Christopher Wheeldon – Choreography
Michael Hulls – Lighting
Angela Kostritzky – Costume
Music by Ezio Bosso
Rafael Bonachela – Choreography
Natasha Chivers – Lighting
Yumba vs Nonino
Music by Osvaldo Pugliese & Astor Pizzolla
Craig Revel Norwood – Choreography
Natasha Chivers – Lighting
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 10 May, 2008
Venue: Sadler's Wells, London
The Ballet Boyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, have now got to that stage in their careers when they are producing “greatest hits” programmes. The Royal Ballet duo, who in 1998 famously walked out on the company which had nurtured them, have been presenting their own eclectic mix of dance for almost a decade, first as George Piper Dances and now, more simply, as the Ballet Boyz. Their appeal has never been to the cutting edge of dance, or indeed to the young – their own brand of unforced blokieness and chilled middle-class, middle-Englishness appeals to an older demographic. They too are now knocking on the door of middle age, and are coming to the end of their performing careers as the years thicken waists and stiffen joints.
It was a pleasant surprise, though, to see such a satisfying programme from this irrepressible duo; they have dished up some real turkeys in their time, so a consistently high-quality evening of dance was most welcome. It started with perhaps their greatest hit Broken Fall, which back in 2003 saw them teamed up with no less a name than Mademoiselle Non Sylvie Guillem, then at her height of fame. It is a wholly satisfying piece, exploring their superlative partnering skills in a series of ever more gasp-inducing flips and throws as, in this revival, the admirable Oxana Panchenko’s every fall is broken by their safe hands. Monica Mason, The Royal Ballet’s Director and present at the performance I saw, could only have sat and rued Nunn and Trevitt’s departure anew, so sure were they in their partnering, so atuned to the movement style, qualities in short supply at Covent Garden amongst the male ranks. I especially liked Maliphant’s third section which saw the three dancers in changing combinations but had the repeated theme of the single dancer executing the same movements or striking the same poses as the supported dancer in the remaining couple. In that it was reminiscent of Frederick Ashton’s Monotones II, and there is no higher praise.
Mesmerics is a splendid revival too – it shows that Christopher Wheeldon can produce superb choreography and perhaps deserves in part the label he has acquired as “the hope of classical dance”. I suspect that he, like David Bintley, needs limitation of time and funds to produce his best work – Wheeldon has been disappointing of late in his larger-scale commissions, but Mesmerics shows him on fine form, the whole enterprise hugely lifted by the presence of Edward Watson as a guest. Royal Ballet Principal Watson is simply remarkable in terms of his stage presence and physicality and more than justifies his place amongst ballet’s finest after his années de galère rising through the ranks. It was interesting that while Nunn has slowed up a little, Trevitt continues to impress with his fleetness of foot and easy classicism of movement – he was always a fine classical dancer – and even though a generation separates the three men what was immediately apparent was their shared schooling: an innate knowledge of how to align the body; at what angle to raise a limb. Wheeldon chose his music well – Glass encourages movement – and choreographs with ease, his signature semaphore arm movements melding effortlessly into classical dance vocabulary.
EdOx was a fascinating piece, a reworking of a dance for two women now made for Watson and Panchenko. The traces of that are clear to see – there is no defined male or female role, and Panchenko does just as much supporting (and lifting) of Watson as the more conventional other way round. It explores Watson’s astonishing flexibility (itself more characteristic of female dancers) but is suffused with a tenderness which was affecting.
The Boyz ended their mixed bill with their justly applauded tango piece Yumba vs Nonino choreographed by the “nasty judge” from “Strictly Come Dancing” Craig Revel Horwood. It is great fun, and stands as a tribute to this engaging pair’s partnership. They tango together, sometimes tender, sometimes combative; there is a subtle interplay between them, part rivalry, part mutual support – and at times gloriously funny. What this duet also does is, perhaps uniquely, to deliver an intimate dance for two men without the whiff of homo-eroticism.
Superbly executed and wittily danced, Yumba vs Nonino was a fine closing piece – except that it wasn’t. The duo’s middle-England, ageing trendie appeal led to what I felt to be an unfortunate coda (although the mainly 35-55 year-old audience clapped and swayed along in pseudo-youthful transport): Nunn and Trevitt singing and playing their way through a Take That hit on stage. Nunn may be able to hold the tune as he bashes his drum kit, and Trevitt with his Byronic good looks certainly looks the part on the bass guitar, but it was all too evocative of the middle-aged man buying himself a motorbike to conjure up his long-lost youth. And I have never seen someone more uncomfortable than the shy Edward Watson with a guitar slung round his neck pretending to strum away behind them. Dancers are there to dance.