Review: BalletBoyz - Serpent / Fallen / Young Men (excerpt) - Roundhouse

Performance: 31 July - 1 August 2014
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 1 August 2014

BalletBoyz the Talent Leon Poulton & Adam Kirkham in Russell Maliphant's 'Fallen'. Photo: Panos

There is no shortage of surprise in the world of dance but it was especially surreal to encounter a beach during the interval of the BalletBoyz® show at the Roundhouse. And not just a glorified sandpit, you understand, but a genuine, large beach full of golden sand and suitably adorned with beach huts, palm trees and beachside bars. The only thing missing on this exotic roof terrace in Chalk Farm was any sight of the sea.

That this happened at a BalletBoyz® gig at the Roundhouse was – on reflection – perhaps not so surprising since both the company and the venue appear to be all about extending the sensory envelope of entertainment. So, why not enjoy a chilled glass of cold wine, sitting on warm sand, during the interval of a dance show! It just leaves the problem of ensuring everyone gets back before the next act starts, which was no mean feat.

The original BalletBoyz (Michael Nunn and William Trevitt) gave their first show at the Roundhouse back in 2001 and now that the company has metamorphosed into the TALENT (a group of 10 exceptional young male dancers) this return to NW1 represents the farewell performances in London for this acclaimed double bill of Liam Scarlett’s Serpent and Russell Maliphant’s Fallen. This is the programme that was largely responsible for BalletBoyz® – the TALENT winning Best Independent Dance Company at the 2013 National Dance Awards where Maliphant also picked up the Best Modern Choreography award for Fallen.

Since the show has already been acclaimed it is superfluous to reiterate the strength of my regard for both choreography and performance, save to say that all remains vibrant and fresh, with just as strong an impact as at the time of the premieres back in early 2013. The venue helped here and not because of the beach outside. Inside the main space, the show was not held in the round (as I had expected) but cabaret-style with a platform for performance (behind which sat the musicians of the BBC Concert Orchestra, screened off from view by a thin curtain) with the central area occupied by tables and chairs, like a 1930s nightclub. The unusual opportunity to take bottles of wine into the theatre threw some audience members into confusion as they tried in vain to order interval drinks: “…but, sir, you can take all the bottles of wine you need, now”!! In any event, the familiar works seemed even fresher in these new surroundings and accentuated by the significant bonus of live music.

Scarlett’s work contains many striking images that emerge piecemeal from his free-flowing, largely classical palette and Serpent has a particular emphasis on exploring the potential of combative, earthy strength in several all-in, all-male pas de deux. The ten guys wear tight flesh-coloured leggings with ribbed panels at the crotch and knees but they are naked from the waist up. With so much sweaty muscular flesh on show it seemed as if we were watching a training camp for Spartans; or, perhaps, thinking about ten being the base of Roman numerology it might more appropriately have been a school for gladiators.

I asked myself why the dance critics had singled out Maliphant’s piece for an award, when their published praise for this programme had seemed to fall jointly on both works. The answer, I think, is that while Serpent has many heady and memorable moments, it lacks the flow of continuity and coherence that is there throughout Fallen. Maliphant’s choreography is clearly identifiable as being in his style, with his trademark torso-spiralling twists and turns, going one way and then the other, and it is hard to view Scarlett as yet having this unmistakeable brand. Mixed in with the memorable innovations are other patches of movement that have been seen many times before and are indistinguishable from many other classically-based choreographers.

Set against this criticism, I am happy to concede that here is a young choreographer courageously exploring many different horizons from project to project and clearly comfortable with this diversity: just looking at Sweet Violets and Hansel and Gretel for the Royal Ballet, the recent Hummingbird for San Francisco Ballet and Serpent as part of his output gives the briefest glimpse into an immense range and expansive style, already remarkable for a young man of 28.

The choice of contemporary music for the two works – Max Richter’s extraordinarily eclectic Memoryhouse album (2002) for Serpent and a mix from film score composer Armand Amar for Fallen – provides a rich aural tapestry that produces a significant variety of inspirations within the structure of each piece. A driving momentum is derived from the music, which is played exhilaratingly by the BBC Concert Orchestra. It seems almost needless to say that Michael Hulls’ lighting added depth, impact and colour.

The most remarkable thing about the young men in the TALENT is the diversity of their own dance skills and background. Just two (Leon Poulton and Matthew Rees) have been with the company since the beginning, six years ago, with two others (Adam Kirkham and Edward Pearce) coming into the team, a year later. These four all appeared in the reality TV show for More4 (BalletBoyz: The Next Generation) that spawned the company. Of the newer recruits, Andrea Carrucciu is always notable. His sharply- parted short black hair and neat moustache giving the appearance of a dashing RAF Pilot from WW2, a close relative of Lord Lucan or a lead singer in a new wave 80s pop band.

Carrucciu features in the main soloist role during a lengthy 25-minute extract from the company’s forthcoming work, appropriately entitled Young Men (with choreography by Iván Pérez, music by Keaton Henson and lighting by Tanja Rühl), which previewed as a filling between the two established works. It seems likely to be a dark piece with a neo-fascist military flavour but we will need to wait for the full-length work to premiere at Sadler’s Wells next January. I’m willing to bet that it will have a significant impact – even without a beach.

Final performance Friday 1 August

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Find him on Twitter: @gwdancewriter

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