Review: Balletboyz in Greatest Hits! at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

Performance: 4-5 Nov 2008
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 7 November 2008

My best of the Ballet Boyz is easily found in the opening “track” of this ‘Greatest Hits’ ensemble – by the way, not exactly the same programme as at Sadler’s Wells in May – since I’m firmly convinced that Russell Maliphant’sBroken Fall’ is one of the best works premiered in the UK since the Millennium. It was made for the Boyz (Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt) to partner Sylvie Guillem and won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance in 2004. Sylvie’s unique stamp of long, fluid, feline movement (especially in the concluding solo) is irreplaceable; and it’s also true that the Boyz’ strength now begins to ebb towards the end. However, it’s pleasing to report that – overall – the work has lost none of its remarkable impact and that the Ballet Boyz’ long-term partner, Oxana Panchenko, has now enhanced an entirely new dynamic to the ongoing rippling movement of the three dancers through the long central section. It’s a remarkable exercise in mature, controlled adagio dance and benefits enormously from Barry Adamson’s score and Michael Hulls’ lighting.

This was followed by an exciting bunch of “mini-me’s” since a quartet of teenage male dancers, spotted by Nunn and Trevitt at a youth dance festival, were given a wonderful opportunity to perform a work choreographed by one of their number, Kai Downham. It was fresh and raw and, in a way, quite inspirational for the future of boys in dance. These were largely untrained bodies (the boys had not come to dance until comparatively recently) but there was something special in their ebullience, and we were seeing a double flashback to a rather romanticised illusion of the young Trevitt and Nunn.

The rock-solid strength of Michael Nunn is an anchor around which much of their work revolves, certainly in ‘Broken Fall’ and also in Liv Lorent’sPropeller’ which combines some remarkable balance and counter-balance in the integration of Nunn and Panchenko’s bodies in another slow, rippling duet. It’s a work that fares better for the audience on the smaller stage of the QEH. ‘EdOx’ – by Rafael Bonachela – was another duet, made on Ed Watson and Oxana Panchenko as a reworking of earlier choreography for the latter and Amy Hollingsworth (called ‘AmOx‘). On this occasion Oxanna has moved onto her third partner, Tim Morris (moonlighting from his usual non-dancing role as the company’s Assistant Producer) and it was fascinating to see how movement made to Watson’s long, fluid limbs and classical technique fared with the stockier, less flexible Morris. The answer is that it worked very well, but in an entirely different dynamic, such that this version deserves to be called ‘TimOx’!

Dance lovers in London have been robbed of Viviana Durante’s special talent for a decade since she left the Royal Ballet to go East and it was, for me, the highlight of the evening to welcome her back to perform Will Tuckett’sOn Before’, another slow, sensual duet (performed with Trevitt). Durante is very different from the dancer we saw at Covent Garden (and can still see in the commercially available DVDs of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Mayerling’) but the remarkable plasticity of her supple body and glorious port de bras is still so evident and encouraged to such excellent effect by Tuckett’s choreography.

The evening concluded, not – as usual – with the ensemble playing a live song from the Arctic Monkeys or Take That but with Craig Revel Horwood’s comic male tango duet, ‘Yumba vs Noninho’ (its title taken from the two songs that comprise its soundtrack). As Strictly Come Dancing’s resident “Mr Nasty”, an introductory film showed that Horwood is also scrupulously hard on those who perform his own work, taking hundreds of notes at rehearsals. I suspect that the note taking would have been fast and furious at this performance but who cares, I guess? It’s funny and it gives the Boyz a wonderful opportunity to ham it up, which their fans clearly love. It’s not, however, for me.

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