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BalletBoyz’ Deluxe at Sadler’s Wells | Review

BalletBoyz -Credit Rick Guest.
BalletBoyz -Credit Rick Guest.

Firmly in the realm of contemporary dance, there are traces of more ‘traditional’ (for want of a better word) disciplines that can be seen in Deluxe, presumably a reflection of their individual and collective training – dancers and directors alike. Such beautifully, if unconventional, choreographed movements are a delight to see – and, thanks to world events at the time of writing, are seen close up on video rather than, as planned, on tour. The camera work, too, deserves praise – capturing as many as six dancers doing their thing on the same stage at the same time is no mean feat.

Each of the two acts, ‘Bradley 4:18’ and ‘Ripple’, have introductory sections which put the dances in context, without giving everything away. Whilst ‘Bradley 4:18’ sounds like a chapter and verse in a book called The Gospel According To St Bradley, it explores a young man called Bradley who is awake at 4:18am. Why is he up at that time? What is he doing? What is he thinking? It is not, alas, as simple as working a night shift, being jetlagged or sleepwalking (or a combination of those things).

Maxine Doyle has harnessed the seemingly boundless energy of this all-male company almost too well: while it is always a pleasure to witness people enjoying themselves on stage doing their thing, the amount of anger ‘Bradley’ expresses, and the varied ways in which this is expressed, means the show borders on ‘toxic masculinity’. Or to put it another way, there’s a fight director listed in the show’s credits (Kate Waters) for a reason.

There’s a bit of spoken word thrown into this act, which will rankle the purists, but then there are other elements in the show that will wind them up. Pretty much all of it, in fact. Bradley, personified by all of the dancers in various ways, talks rapidly, as though recreational drugs are involved. At one point, he seems rather tired – put plods on regardless, perhaps because he feels he has to, a relatable position for anyone with a busy life who every so often doesn’t quite have the strength to do everything they set out to do. But, being a young man, it isn’t long before he regains his energy, somehow, ensuring an exhilarating ending even if it is not exactly a happy one.

In Ripple, the pace is significantly less frenetic, sometimes even graceful, an interesting choice for BalletBoyz inasmuch as the second half has less activity than the first. It is not, however, an anti-climax, for the simple reason that it is so very different. There’s a clear element of trust as the dancers rely on one another – someone falls back and is caught (thus, if anything, avoiding injury), another passes through the open legs of a colleague, and so on. The subtle movements here, oddly enough, reminded me of going on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight service from London to the Edinburgh Fringe, when the gentle ‘ripple’ movements of the train effectively rocked your reviewer to sleep.

They don’t last, however, in this production, as the performance eventually embraces some faster-paced sequences. The precision is notable, even in the latter sequence, which demonstrates the dancers’ individual abilities, whilst maintaining collective cohesion and uniformity in the creation and replication of ripples. The somewhat oversized costumes do much to accentuate the theme of the act. I must confess I might have found this section a tad too gentle in the relative vastness of Sadler’s Wells itself. In my front room, I found this to be an intriguing and worthwhile experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following their recent, triumphant shows Them/Us, Fourteen Days, Young Men and Life, the multi-award-winning BalletBoyz are back and celebrating their 20th anniversary year. Deluxe fuses the work of some of the world’s most exciting and innovative choreographers and composers.

Chinese dancer and choreographer Xie Xin (TAO Dance Theatre) creates a work set to an original score by composer Jiang Shao-feng, whilst Maxine Doyle (Punchdrunk) collaborates with jazz musician and composer Cassie Kinoshi, of the Mercury-nominated SEED Ensemble.

Intro – BalletBoyz: Deluxe


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