BalletBoyz Deluxe
BalletBoyz perform “Bradley 4:18” by Maxine Doyle. Photograph by George Piper

Black Eyes and High Tide

Balletboyz celebrates 20 years with “Deluxe”

Performance
BalletBoyz: “Deluxe”
Place
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Scotland, March 1, 2020
Words
Lorna Irvine

BalletBoyz’ twenty year anniversary is celebrated with elan with this superb double bill which showcases two world class choreographers, and the boldness and adaptability of the company. After a short cheeky film, created by Sarah Golding with all of the dancers freestyling and vying for attention, the first piece of the evening unfolds explosively, created by choreographer Maxine Doyle from Punchdrunk and featuring music from the jazz artist Cassie Kinoshi from the SEED Ensemble.

Based on spoken word artist Kate Tempest’s character Bradley from her track “Pictures On A Screen,” “Bradley 4:18” traces the early morning trajectory of the titular insomniac, from introspection to playfulness. Each member of the company, clad in crumpled suits with five o clock shadow and a black eye, plays a facet of Bradley, going into existential meltdown over not having milk for his morning Cheerios, or simply angst-ing over his mid-life crisis. The initial stance is low-slung, baggy, crouched down like a proverbial ‘wiseguy.’ There is a Beat poetry quality to both style and movement, albeit with a twist; the arms say Bob Fosse, but the legs are Michael Clark all the way. It’s like jazz, but here the shakes are the early morning DTs, rather than a full-on shimmy. The men flail, fall into splits, flail some more, scratch at imaginary sores and tickle hip-hop breaking phrases, like the hardy perennial ‘worm,’ into submission. The soundtrack is similarly idiosyncratic in scope, with free jazz melting into electronica. Mimesis is also a factor, as the men ‘try on’ personas, à la silent film stars.

Masculinity in all its forms is key here, ultimately. The overarching sense is that it’s all a construct, and gender merely a performance. Asserting macho superiority in gym bunny posturing and boxing is undercut by various dancers being more open and vulnerable in hold, and the formations of knitted limbs reduce them to little more than boys in an interminable playground. It feels like the birth of modern art, and the compositions are Kandinsky all the way, fizzing with a pyrotechnic energy.

Will Thompson and Harry Price in Xie Xin’s “Ripple.” Photograph by George Piper

Xie Xin’s “Ripple” is a very different piece altogether. Accompanied by a sinewy score from Jiang Shaofeng, Xin’s choreography is more linear, more about the storytelling, than characterisation. Here, a figure akin to the creator, a godlike figure, appears, rocking dancers to and fro from the head. Balance and elements are the thematic concern, as Matthew, Benjamin, Harry William, Liam, Dan and Joseph emulate the mighty ocean, ebbing and flowing. The movement is fluid, graceful and hypnotic, to the lush soundtrack which weaves strings together with electronics.

There is an almost Buddhist calm to the piece at times, where the men seem to disappear as though camouflaged by the minimalist set. In flowing clothes, they are the epitome of delicacy and control. Chinese ballet styles fuse with floor spinning, and the pairings are knotty and complex. Each dancer seems to conduct another like a lightning rod, as the sound of waves kicks in. So, too, the movement vocabulary seems grander, with gestures becoming bigger, arms spread open. 

There are Shaolin monk-like stances, birdlike gestures, and tides that rise and fall, implicit in the work—yet it all comes back to the source of the movement: it all comes from the balance of all things. Air, fire and water, working like the men in symbiosis. They seem connected by invisible strings, deploying a manipulation of each other’s frames like puppet masters. It’s beautiful and light, and yet so dense with symbolism and layers of meaning. We are creatures of nature, Xin seems to suggest—we rise, we fall, still, we flow onwards, unstoppable as the tides.

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