BalletBoyz: Shifting Connections in Works by Scarlett and Maliphant

The BalletBoyz program Friday at The Ahmanson Theater was something of a family affair. The two choreographers on the program, Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant are both products of the Royal Ballet School while Artistic Directors Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt both recently retired from major careers as principal dancers with the company. But Nunn’s and Trevitt’s trajectory with BalletBoyz, a company comprised of ten male dancers, has veered convincingly from the famous meticulous British classicism of the Royal in the direction of a full on contemporary hybrid ensemble that makes visceral connections with new audiences while it continues to explore the physical and emotional polarities of a men-only ensemble.

Not surprisingly one pillar of BalletBoyz virtuosity is an extroverted partnering style that is both complex and loaded with a grappling muscularity.  The two works on the program Scarlett’s “Serpent” and Maliphant’s “Fallen” each give a slightly different angle on how physical interactions play out. “Fallen” is a military themed piece that borrows movement from adversarial contexts.  The dancers are costumed in shirts with the sleeves cut out at the shoulder. Both pants and shirts are an olive green. The themes of an unfolding collage of large and small groups revolve around climbing, carrying and falling.  One striking duo danced by Adam Kirkham and Leon Poulton had the two men weaving a conclusion of spiraling patterns in a down stage pool of light before disappearing into darkness.  

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Maliphant''s "Fallen" for BalletBoyz

Maliphant’s “Fallen” for BalletBoyz

The music by Armand Amar is a percussion driven. multi-section score laced with ambient sound and Middle Eastern washes. The stage is stripped bare, dark. Searchlights scan the stage giving the impression of a prison yard or a battlefield.  The lighting was by Michael Hulls and frequent collaborator with Maliphant. There is no specificity as far as the dancers are concerned. We take it they inhabit no specific place but the overarching theme is that of a band of brothers, caught in violent contexts but also looking out for one another.

Scarlett’s “Serpent” opens and closes with a beautiful bit of imagery. The ten men, lying on their sides, extend their arms upward to mimic an uncoiling cobra. But overall, the movement invests heavily in less literal iterations that begin with roiling motion in the spine which finally reach outward to the limbs and head. The motions are detailed but without poses and conclusions. Scarlett is a clever organizer. He brings a dance craftsman’s sense of composition to the spooling flow of small and large ensembles. The ten sections glide by on successive waves of minimalist patterns (mostly piano and strings) backed at times with full scale arrangements. The exceptional, dark-hued music (which includes one section modeled on a Bach style solo partita for violin) is from the album Memoryhouse by British composer Max Richter.  Michael Hulls also designed the lighting for “Serpent’.

The dancers move against changing backgrounds of blue, violet, and yellow light as well as in silhouette. The men are bare chested and suited up in skin tight calf length leggings. Overall, “Serpent” has a more organic feeling with the partnering growing out of a physically sinuous counter weighted movement. Andrea Carrucciu delivered a striking solo that embodied the essence of the roiling serpentine movement that is at the heart of Scarlett’s work.

Nunn and Trevitt have done much for finding popular avenues for dance in their film and concert dance work. Their Ovation series for television “A Chance to Dance” is, so far, the best of the reality dance formats. Not surprisingly it is aimed squarely at inventive, contemporary choreography and actual full scale dance designed for the stage.  While the contexts may be new, the pair remains old school in their dedication to old models influencing new ones.

(Performances continue Saturday and Sunday at the Ahmanson Theater. Reviewed performance took place Friday November 7, 2014 in Los Angeles. These performances mark BalletBoyz first appearance in Los Angeles. Photos are from 2013 performances of “Fallen” and Serpent”. Reviews of the series “A Chance to Dance” at sdwoodruff.wordpress.com  The reviews of “A Chance to Dance” were originaly published 8/2012 on DanceChannelTV.com)

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