Premiering in March 2020 Deluxe only dazzled 7 times before the world closed inward again. But never fear, 2 years on, and a new set of exciting male dancers bring BalleyBoyz’s (almost) lost show back to Sadlers Wells, and thank goodness they did!
Michael Nunn and William Trevitt (artistic directors and co-founders of the company) along with being exceptional dancers/choreographers have a clear yen for videography. Having made full-length films for the BBC, an almost uncountable number of shorts and documentaries these blokes know their way around a camera. So, it’s hardly surprising that the evening is peppered with descending screens and many mini-documentaries.
One such cuts the ribbon on the evening as “The Boyz” in white jumpsuits (that look a lot like one I brought from COS a couple of years ago) spin around a dark room in Sarah Golding’s The Intro. Sassy, humour-filled, and jazzy this piece is a nice warm-up, short and sweet with irreverent flicks of the wrists and nice tactile group work.
Another mini-doc explores the process of creating Ripple in discussion with Xie Xin the famous Chinese choreographer. Her unique turn of phrase and bluntness is refreshing as she discusses the difficulty of working with just men. Although I always feel with pre-show talks or videos that this flavours the piece we see next, as we are constantly hunting for the challenges mentioned by Xin. As if we need an excuse to be more critical!
Funnily what follows is without a groove, smooth and beautifully polished. Katherine Watt’s costume has the six dancers in layered oversized vests in dark blues and browns, with gigantic palazzo-pants rippling (see what I did there) with the dancers’ movements. The many folders of fabric flare and fade adding an extra dimension. A custom composition by Jiang Shaofeng has the sounds of waves mixed with traditional Chinese string playing, more techno elements, and repeated clicking. The choreography is fluidity incarnate. The dancers repeat a spellbinding turn bent almost double with hands in a circle around their heads. Spinning like falling leaves in a strong breeze, in and out of tight configurations. Along with some impressive lifting work, and almost Tai chi-like pas de deux’s, Xin knows how to craft detailed compact moments. Starting and ending the piece with a sequence of manipulation by one dancer of the other’s head, guiding them in circles like a mannequin. The undulations of the piece spreads out confidently into the space, never completely giving us what we expect; beautiful movement yes, but an approach to choreography that is utterly her own.
The screen arrives once more and Punchdrunk’s Maxine Doyle explains her experience with BalletBoyz. Finding common ground in spoken word artist Kate Tempest’s album Let Them Eat Chaos, this was the impetus for the piece. Bradley 4:18 is much more narrative-driven and far more difficult to swallow. Watt has the men clad in suits in various states of distress with the notorious Essex-boy-out-in-Bank salmon pink shirt. This time the dancers embody the many personalities of Bradly, a man who has lost his way as he picks through his life at 4:18 in the morning. I mean who hasn’t been there?
Doyle is a confident storyteller, starting with mini solos that grab your attention with their violent energy. The choreography is less “dance”, more physical manifestation of emotion, all jagged, self-hating, and painful. Cassie Kinoshi crafted the score within the workroom with a live band, giving us a surreal soundtrack that is grafted to bodies on stage. Clashing, angry, morphing in and out of time and pitch, fighting and informing every step of the way.
The use of monologue help form Bradly in our minds. At one point a dancer is mouthing along to an increasingly obsessive audio that cumulates in “all I want is a chicken Caesar salad” while his hands pound and pinch at his own body. This piece is certainly less aesthetically pleasing than Ripple, grotesque in its depiction of lonely masculinity. The group scenes are a mixture of choreographed dancing in clubs and fighting. Now and then the solos break into frantic running around the space, laughing maniacally as they do. Yet there is humour tucked away here, the cocky Jack-the-lad; a bag of coke in his pocket, Stella in his hand, ready for anything is conjured up remarkably well. Along with a stomping section that instantly brings the Crips from West Side story to mind. Balletboyz have shown that they understand even the darkest nooks of modern masculinity and with the guiding hand of Doyle craft a difficult but vital work.
The company continues its (hopefully) endless march of innovation and collaboration. They turn dance on its head and then expect it to give us a spin. It looks like the 2-year wait was absolutely worth it. If this is theatre deluxe, I never want to go back to economy!