BalletBoyz: England on Fire

Sadler’s Wells, London
November 8, 2023

England on Fire is based on the book of the same name by Stephen Ellcock and Mat Osman. BalletBoyz co-founders and directors, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, gave each of it’s eight chapters a different choreographer to make of it what they will. Continuity is provided by a single dancer who features in every chapter, and by the music played live by musicians directed by Charlotte Harding, and post-punk rock band, Gag Salon.

The work is a masterclass in imbuing what, at times, feels like quite disordered choreography, with passion, tireless energy, and tight technique. The dancers are talented and committed. They bring to the stage control and technique that contrasts starkly with the chaos the piece portrays.

Many of the eight choreographers made full use of the entire company of fifteen dancers, whose musical togetherness and dance awareness of each other was a joy to watch. Lucy Bennett’s choreography of the chapter, ‘Water.’ was particularly remarkable for her innovative use of movement that imitates flowing water, and that conjures up pictures of the sea without needing any scenic backdrop.

BalletBoyz in England on Fire
Photo Thomas Bradshaw

Artemis Stamouli deserves special mention for her melting and lyrical portrayal of a lost soul wandering aimlessly through life. Elsewhere, there are some stunning pas de deux, and one pas de trois that is both technically adroit and pleasingly humorous.

The lighting, designed by Andrew Ellis, is also innovative and adds a great deal to the overall feel of the work.

And yet, despite of all the excellence, England on Fire left me cold and confused. It is incredibly bleak and, it was only by rereading the programme notes afterwards that I gained any idea of what it was about. And it is still only an idea. The characters were apparently lost, and so was I. From overheard comments by others, I was not alone.

Added to this, the commentary that accompanied the opening of each chapter was often drowned out by the musicians, an annoyance that should not have happened. In their programme notes Nunn and Trevitt say that each audience member will find in the piece their own evocation of an England they recognise in the piece. I didn’t and, despite all the plusses, rather found myself wishing it would end.

The BalletBoyz perform England on Fire at Sadler’s Wells to November 11, 2023.