Review: BalletBoyz: Young Men, Sadler’s Wells

BalletBoyz’s The Talent company kick off the Sadler’s Wells 2015 season with a brand new work that draws on the anniversary of World War I as inspiration, and displays the company’s combination of grace and power that has made them such a success. In a mature and commanding performance, the cast of 11 male and, surprisingly, two female dancers captivate the audience in a production that goes from strength to strength.

While Iván Pérez’s choreography explores a number of themes of war, it eschews traditional narrative, which works in the piece’s favour. The focus is not historical documentation or military ceremony, but the complex psychology of a generation of men sent into battle. A motif of collapse and revival is repeated throughout, as if these men are defeated by the traumas, only to rise and revisit them countless times. The torturous conflict between human nature and the dehumanising effects of war is performed with deep emotion and unfailing commitment by this talented cast.

Young Men is roughly divided into scenes, but these overlap and segue into each other smoothly as if the audience is drifting through a series of dreams. The first half is poignant, although the tone and movement styles remain generally the same throughout, as does Keaton Henson’s music, which is nonetheless effective in its mixing of rich melodies and guttural, dissonant sounds. Played by an on-stage orchestra, it is rather relentless and could do with more variety at times, although it certainly does its job in creating the tense and eerie mood.

It is in Act II that we see more innovation and creativity, both in Pérez’s choreography and in its staging. The repetition of Act I breaks, offering more range while retaining lyricism and flow. The dancers all show great power and athleticism, but there is also impressive refinement and deeply moving tenderness between them. In the programme notes, Pérez highlights the intimacy of his choreography, and this is evident here: the unity of the company is apparent and there is a great sense of synergy as they work seamlessly together. This does not mean they are lost as individuals, but for me the most emotive and thrilling sequences come when the whole cast move together, their bodies tumbling across the stage and across each other with leaps and turns that demonstrate superb talent as well as an almost ferocious energy.

The final section – ‘Battlefield Landscape’ – is particularly striking, as the stark lighting casts deep shadows across the faces of the cast, capturing the confused and bewildering nature of battle as well as the violence of the scene. This is an atmospheric and absorbing new work that showcases the physicality and emotional commitment of its performers, and simultaneously reflects on historical horrors and a timeless trauma of brutality, separation and disorientation. Well worth a watch.

BalletBoyz: Young Men played at Sadler’s Wells. For more information, see the Sadler’s Wells website.

Photo by George Piper