The original BalletBoyz, former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, spent ten years touring as an inventive male modern ballet duo (with the occasional help of guest artists including Sylvie Guillem). Their work with a broad range of choreographers from the worlds of classical and contemporary dance brought a fresh and funky approach to male dance and drew full houses up and down the country.
In 2010, the Boyz made the move from performing to directing, and created a new company of ten young male dancers drawn from a range of training backgrounds – The Talent. This current touring season is the next generation company's fourth, and reflects the classical-contemporary juxtapositions that have always interested Nunn and Trevitt.
First in the short double-bill is a new work from Royal Ballet Artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett (himself barely more than a BalletBoy at the tender age of 26). Scarlett has received acclaim for his skilful and sensitive reworkings of the classical idiom over at Covent Garden; but the choreographer is moved out of his comfort zone by a company devoid of the female dancers he usually finds so inspiring. Serpent blends the high lines and graceful arabesques of Scarlett's training with rippling torsos and fluid snaking actions along the floor. The strong and balanced physiques of the male company inspire new modes of partnering – dancers spar and tackle with rapid arm gestures, rolling off one another or thrusting in to high shoulder supports with scissoring legs. It's a new look for Scarlett and one that works well with the company dancers; Max Richter's music rather undulates along in the background without adding much of substance.
Some of the partnering in Scarlett's piece is reminiscent of the style of long-term BalletBoyz collaborator Russell Maliphant, whose Fallen is the second piece in the programme. Maliphant – whose best-known works are duos and trios – also faces a challenge in working with a 10-strong ensemble, one which the veteran choreographer rises to with exhilarating grace. The curtain rises on two concentric circles of men, one ring scooting around the outside with rapid, capoeira-influenced low spins and spirals, the other joined at the shoulders in precarious leans that fall and snap back with tango-style hip twists. Here the company functions as one body, faces obscured by Michael Hulls' darkly enigmatic lighting design; when the group splits from their primal circles leaving one solo dancer alone centre-stage, visible in a brighter patch of light, the effect is extremely powerful.
Maliphant's piece builds and releases, piling groups of men atop one another in vertiginous shoulder stands and towering formations, then bringing them right back down to the floor again and splitting into intimate duos and trios. The choreographer's distinctive movement style, grounded and fluid with bodies falling into apparently effortless connections, is thrilling in its weight and rapid pace; his control of the energy and structure of the whole is masterful. This young company have already been praised for the eponymous talent of their dancers; with this programme, it's clear the BalletBoyz are also selecting some seriously talented collaborators.
BalletBoyz – The Talent 2013 at Sadler's Wells Theatre, EC1 until 13 March 2013. Tickets £13-£38. For more information and to book see the Sadler's Wells website or call 0844 412 4300.