Review: Balletboyz the TALENT - Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House

Performance: 16 - 27 September 2014
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Wednesday 17 September 2014

Balletboyz the TALENT in Alexander Whitley's 'The Murmuring'. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Performance reviewed: 16 September
Alexander Whitley The Murmuring / Kristen McNally MeTheus / Christopher Wheeldon Mesmerics

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt’s bold experiment in accessible modern dance continues apace with this triple bill for the Deloitte Ignite Festival. It finds the Royal Ballet rebels finally back in Covent Garden, but now as directors of their much-lauded all-male BalletBoyz the TALENT company, tackling two new works and a reworked favourite.

Ignite this year is entitled Myth: The Feather and the Flame, and Alexander Whitley’s The Murmuring ticks off the feathery part, evoking the idea of a murmuration of starlings and their wheeling, flocking flight patterns. Bookended by quotes from Robert Burns and Michel Foucault, and punctuated by short, abstract black and white film clips, Whitley’s piece taps into the BalletBoyz’ robust masculinity as he plays with contact techniques and a pulsing, attract-repel group dynamic.

Repeatedly, the whole cast comes together to form a Rodin-like mass of bodies, with one man at the front angling his weight forward, and the others acting as a mass restraint behind, hands on backs of necks, thighs, biceps. The dancers’ seething, shifting changing of positions within that tight formation reflects the nervous energy of the piece, driven by Raime’s electronic score, which starts with the sort of huge, reverberating low-end of a warehouse rave and continues to be insistently unsettling.

Pair and group work proves more rewarding than the solos, although Marc Galvez’s set of whipping spins and martial arts-like moves is beautifully executed. There’s a potent sense of individuals deriving power from the group, morphing into different combinations of twos and threes, coalescing and disintegrating, and a spiky counter-sense of scrabbling for space – rarely have I been as aware of elbows in a piece as here, where they seem to be thrust out at pugnacious angles with alarming regularity.

As it stands, The Murmuring is too long, the film segments add nothing except a respite for the dancers, and some of the performance had the tentative quality of something that needs more rehearsal. But one-to-watch choreographer Whitley’s work is still a valuable addition to the BalletBoyz’ repertoire.

So too Kristen McNally, the Royal Ballet soloist and exciting new choreographic talent, who is the first woman to create a piece for the company. MeTheus is a take on the Prometheus myth (the ‘flame’ part of the brief), although you might not guess it: like Whitley’s, this is more an exploration of a group dynamic, with, in fact, some echoes of the preceding choreography.

The feeling of violence ratchets up persistently. There’s the striking image early on (foreshadowing what’s to come) of one dancer’s hand slamming into a prone (sacrificed) Prometheus’s chest, and a series of duets that escalate in intensity, feeding on dysfunctional, duelling ideas of brutality and tenderness, that lead to Matthew Sandiford’s Prometheus being stalked, attacked and resurrected. And to have Jonny Greenwood’s composition performed by a live string section ranged across the back of the stage is an huge bonus – seeing them means you can work out that the creepy noise at one key point is the musicians finger-plucking deadened strings.

The musicians stay in place for closing piece Mesmerics, a Christopher Wheeldon choreography originally created on Nunn, Trevitt and Oxana Panchenko in 2003 that has gradually been expanded and now is a work for the whole BalletBoyz cast.

Again, you can’t help but feel there’s a certain amount of ground covered here that has been done in the first two pieces. But Wheeldon’s nonetheless has a noble glow, thanks to his bold classical shapes, and graceful arcing and circularities – these boyz could be Greek gods cavorting on Olympus, adding cheeky tumbles and hip gyrations into the mix – and even a flash of circus trickery as Andrea Carrucciu (particularly notable here) launches himself towards another dancer’s extended embrace and is powered across the stage by a third, prone dancer’s feet. Deft timing of this sort becomes more apparent as the piece builds its rich, interlocking patterns, and the cast is thrilling to watch. It might have sat better with work that was significantly different from it, though.

Deloitte Ignite: Myth, curated by The Royal Ballet and the National Gallery’s Minna Moore Ede continues at the Royal Opera House until Sunday 28 September.
Programme details:

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor. Until recently was Arts Editor of Metro. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

Photos: Chantal Guevara

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