Theatre Royal, Glasgow
March 1, 2020
BalletBoyz’ 20th anniversary show Deluxe features all-female choreographers. It’s not something they’ve made a huge song and dance about, but it is important to note in the current climate, where there is still a dearth of female choreographers taking on big commissions.
At certain points in any cultural ecology, a trend or image can catch, and it’s hard (given the often-long production timelines), or at least irrelevant, to know what came first. In this case, Maxine Doyle’s Bradley 4:18, inspired in turn by the lyrics and story of Kate Tempest’s 2016 Pictures on a Screen, sits alongside a string of troubled modern men, most recently recalling Todd Phillip’s 2019 film Joker.
Dressed in purple and blue bruise-coloured suits (with less subtle painted bruises on their face), men convulse, boogie, sprint, shove, cling, shout, and fall under the glaring light of an inflexible outlined box. With Mad Men-esque coolness, Cassie Kinoshi’s smooth saxophone overlaid on a ticking snare forms the indifferent backdrop to its tortured protagonists.
The Boyz are, of course, fantastic, the product not only of intense training but of close group cohesion. Strong and agile, their bodies are seamless transistors of any movement challenge thrown at them. Unfortunately, the choreography doesn’t give much. Images of male loneliness and distress are plain to see, but the portrayal feels only skin-deep, another image to add to the backdrop.
Both halves of Deluxe begin with a film, projected onto a floating square at the front of the stage. The Intro from Sara Golding is enjoyably seductive and off-piste, though having expected it to form part of Bradley 4:18, I don’t think I took it fully on its own terms. At the start of the second half, we are shown a clip from the BalletBoyz studio with choreographer Xie Xin (謝欣). As she explains the concept of her choreography in Ripple (a constant flow or rainbow of energy), she groans in frustration. She’s not sure if she’s got it right. It’s not a pitiable stance or a plea for understanding: she’s just still working it out. Maybe it’ll never work out. It’s a really nice snapshot of the creative act, of that struggle, the constant never-ending work; a snapshot that feels quite rare.
As the lights dim and Ripple begins with two dancers at the front of a dusky stage, garbed in nondescript clothes, the Theatre Royal falls silent. Silent. One dancer gently pushes his partner’s head to the side, guides him with an invisible thread. Gradually all the Boyz file to the front, and a quiet network of ripples begins. And the theatre is still silent. If anything, it’s swaying: heads falling and dropping side to side, caught in the beauty and quiet methodology of the movement in front of them.
The costumes seem at first unnecessarily ascetic: baggy, dull, earthy. But as the work unfolds, they’re irrelevant: breath and soft swish of fabric on the floor is all. Jiang Shaofeng’s score is sparse but emotive.
There is humility in the movement: the dancers sometimes seem to pray, to wish, to placate. Always, the constant back and forth, up and down, spin and drop, weave and tie, action and reaction. In one moment, four dancers are caught in an inextricable knit, an energy coursing through them but finding no escape until: whoosh, one dancer explodes, glides across the floor, the others looking on. In another moment, a dancer careers slowly in ever expanding and contracting spirals to the vulnerable screech of a solo violin.
Ripple finishes with its opening image of two men at the front of the stage. The meaning of this seems irrelevant, the bookending of a moment that could go on for ever is enough. I’m still hypnotised.
Deluxe by the BalletBoyz continues on an extensive UK tour. Visit www.balletboyz.com for dates, venues and booking links.