With English National Ballet’s superb new works commemorating World War One so fresh in the memory it was impossible not to compare them to the BalletBoyz – Young Men, first seen as Sadler’s Wells earlier in the year. Choreographer, Ivan Perez, tells a series of emotive mini stories that hang together to tell the stories of a group of young men on the front line. We see them train, fall, get hurt, fight and more – it’s a vivid and raw portrayal that creates some original moments. However, at times the storytelling feels a little laboured and the point is hammered home so brutally it’s too difficult a watch.
It’s worth noting here how much the live orchestra really lifts this work. The tension is built skilfully through the heavy strings and repeated piano motifs as the individual character’s stories are told. The inclusion of two female dancers gives an unexpected dynamic and the troubled relationships and painful separations really come to life.
The military training scenes were more repetitive and flat. The exhausting physicality of jumping, running, diving and falling soon loses its impact and adds little to the full story as the audience quickly understands the day to day brutality so there is nothing more to be said. Attempts at individual characterisation are made as one soldier is seen to be struggling with the tough regime but the ‘Training of a Soldier’ scene already feels too long for the audience too be truly engaged with the turmoil.
The choreographer’s attention next moves to shell shock. We see a young man dressed only in underwear, trembling, his face and body both contorted and he is unable to stand without assistance. It’s another scene that feels too long unless the audience is deliberately meant to feel uncomfortable. Eventually, he is forced back into his army uniform, each limb forcefully dressed up until he resembles any other of his comrades although it is obvious to the audience he is mentally broken.
The above both demonstrate the lack of story to go around here, and what story is told certainly doesn’t break the mould. However, despite these criticisms the denouement is still dramatic and touching. ‘Battlefield Landscape’ sees a mound of dust fall to the stage and recreates a battle on the front line; the strings from the orchestra build impressively as the young men fall again and again – they are just faceless silhouettes, their flailing arms and legs creating a cloud of dust above the stage. The piece ends with ‘Homecoming’, where a soldier returns to his two lovers but now instead of fighting over him, as seen previously, they can now vividly see the mental trauma he has under taken and attempt to work together to comfort him. It’s a raw, moving end that leaves some sobering imagery lingering in the mind as one leaves the theatre. Perez certainly knows how to leave an audience bereft, the main body of the story and its telling now just needs a little more attention.
Review by Vikki Jane Vile
Young Men is a new full-length production from BalletBoyz, winners of the National Dance Awards Best Independent Dance Company 2013.
In an intensely moving portrayal of love, friendship, loss and survival, Young Men explores the theme of war and the bonds that develop between the men consumed by it. Drawing inspiration from images of conflict through the ages, the production is a compelling hybrid of dance, theatre and screen performance from the ever-inventive BalletBoyz and their all male dance company the TALENT.
Opening Sadler’s Wells 2015 programme, Young Men is choreographed by rising star Iván Pérez (Nederlands Dans Theater I and II, Ballet Moscow, and the National Ballet of Cuba) and features a newly-commissioned original score from the cult singer songwriter Keaton Henson (albums Dear… and Birthdays).
Featuring the award-winning dancers of the TALENT and live music, Young Men is a co-production with Sadler’s Wells Theatre and 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.