BalletBoyz: Fourteen Days review – daring dance created at breakneck speed

Sadler’s Wells, London
Working to a tight deadline, Javier de Frutos, Iván Pérez, Christopher Wheeldon and Craig Revel Horwood respond to the theme of balance in new pieces, presented alongside Russell Maliphant’s Fallen

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt have always had great instincts when it comes to sustaining the buzz around their company, BalletBoyz. As artistic directors, they’ve never been less than committed to deepening the artistry of their male dancers, but they understand the marketing power of the clever concept and the rogue collaboration. Even if the results can be hit or miss, we always come to a new BalletBoyz show with the expectation of something different. So it is with Fourteen Days, a programme whose opening half is made up of four new dances, all linked by the fact that each had to be created in just two weeks, that each was paired with its own commissioned score, and that each had to use the theme of balance and imbalance as its starting point.

The first of the four is Javier De Frutos’s The Title Is in the Text, and it’s one that makes most mischievously literal use of its allotted theme by having a seesaw as its central prop. Over the work’s 18-minute duration, De Frutos explores every possible variation of tipping, tilting, pivoting and sliding. One man holds the seesaw in a precarious equilibrium by sustaining a long arabesque; another’s sideways stretch topples it slowly off centre. There are sections where the dancers battle to gain control of the seesaw’s momentum, others where they move as a collective body, swaying and slithering in a unison duel with gravity.

Pure physics … The Title Is in the Text by Javier de Frutos.
Pure physics … The Title Is in the Text by Javier de Frutos. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

As pure physics, De Frutos’s choreography is typically ingenious, but just as typically it comes charged with pungent emotion. A moment of electricity flares when two men touch hands; a combative eroticism surfaces as others grapple for dominance of the seesaw; sometimes there’s an undercurrent of simple boyish hilarity when it feels like the men are just playing in the park. But also crucial to the drama of the work is Scott Walker’s recorded score, an unsettling, tumultuous soundscape with snippets of text that reference images of political and economic discord.

Without forcing the image, De Frutos allows us to regard his seesaw as a metaphor for our own small attempts to maintain control in a frighteningly unstable world. In Human Animal, Iván Pérez works with a much smaller palette. His music is a brightly rhythmic score by Joby Talbot (played live, like the following two works) which all but dances alongside the five men as they circle the stage, moving with a high-stepping prance that’s reminiscent of equestrian dressage. There’s an ambiguous mix of exhibitionism and remoteness in the men’s demeanour; they’re dressed in underpants and vividly patterned shirts, yet their expressions are grave. And it’s in this quirkily unreadable context that Pérez elaborates his own formal study of balance – a game of hesitations and reversals in the flow of the dancers’ phrasing which, while simple at first, builds to a dance of mysterious, absorbing charm.

High-stepping prance … Human Animal by Iván Pérez.
High-stepping prance … Human Animal by Iván Pérez. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Christopher Wheeldon’s Us is the most directly legible of the works, a duet that takes the physical elements of trust, support, risk and balance and transforms them into a love story. The unabashedly romantic use of strings in Keaton Henson’s score sets the tone, but Wheeldon himself is working on an inventive and emotional high. In this eight-minute duet, he relishes every possibility of man-on-man partnering, playing with lifts and balances that exploit the muscular heft of his dancers Jordan Robson and Brad Waller. But he also sensitises the men’s gestures, even the surface of their skin, to create an emotional register that moves from quiet moments of tenderness, where one man’s fingers delicately map his partner’s body, to a more passionately visceral tangling of limbs. It’s impressive how many shades of maleness we get to see in the programme (although it would have been interesting to have had at least one work filtered through a woman’s lens).

Only in Craig Revel Horwood’s The Indicator Line do we get a more blatant blast of testosterone. Driven by the percussive power of Charlotte Harding’s score, the men line up in work trousers and clogs, sometimes dancing up a unison storm, sometimes locked into power struggles between themselves and a tyrannical overlord. The Broadway brashness and colour of Revel Horwood’s style sits a little oddly with the preceding three works but the company, who are in superlative form, let rip in its choreography.

Broadway brashness … The Indicator Line by Craig Revel Horwood.
Broadway brashness … The Indicator Line by Craig Revel Horwood. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The best of the evening, however, comes last, with a revival of Russell Maliphant’s 2013 work Fallen. Aside from the elegant, circling intricacies of its opening section, this piece takes the company to a place of rare beauty, in a section of angelically suspended lifts, rolls, balances and falls that not only seem to liberate these powerful male bodies from gravity but to suspend the passage of time.

  • At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 14 October. Box office: 020-7863 8000.


Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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