The dazzling all-male dance troupe, BalletBoyz, explores concepts of community, fraternity and the “other” in their newest show, Them/Us. They return to Sadler’s Wells in London with an evening comprised of two halves: Them – an abstract dance with a large sculpture, and Us – a touching piece choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The BalletBoyz’ Them/Us modern dance programme balances beautiful balletic and geometric phrases with a nuanced narrative movement vocabulary.
The BalletBoyz begin dancing downstage of a tall cuboid metal frame – which, once introduced, informs most of the piece. The structural element on set clearly illustrates how the performers see and relate to each other.
Two dancers interact at the border, shaking hands, maintaining their space and perspective on opposite sides. One dancer squats on top of the frame, enjoying the unique vantage point, before he drops in and connects with the others in the same plane.
At another point, a duo dance in synchrony: one in, one out. While the dancer outside of the cube travels further, taking up more space in the same amount of time, there are instances when the dancer within the cube luxuriates. Although constrained he slowly indulges in the movement, as his partner waits.
While the experimental piece references ‘in groups’ and ‘out groups’, the innovation with the slender silver frame dominates the piece. The ballet boys rotate the cube while other dancers cling on, the audience racing to imagine the effect before it falls into place. The dancers athletically swing from the top bar, stand on the frame while it rotates like a merry-go-round and effortlessly slip through the obstacle.
Benjamin Knapper’s solo especially delights. He juxtaposes a stuttering, staccato-ey soliloquy to a cool jazz beat within the cube to luscious, languid movement once he emerges from the confines.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Us’ began as a pas de deux, first performed by the BalletBoyz at Sadler’s Wells in October 2017. The pas de deux is now situated within an expanded piece, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre in February 2019.
The faction of men stand facing forward, quickly shifting their weight side to side, their coattails shuddering with the same frenetic energy. You can sense their hyperawareness of each other as they tic in synchrony or movements rip through the cast in canon, occasionally falling in unexpected directions. When they lift each other, split into small duets or even dance individually in a larger formation, like a machine – a sense of unity blankets the piece.
Although the piece has been expanded to offer backstory into the intimate partner dance, the pas de deux remains the highlight of Us and the entre evening. It’s a rare treat to see two men dancing together in a piece that’s not simply a choreographed fight scene or a dance-off contest of one-upmanship.
In contrast, the intimate pas de deux between male ballet dancers, Bradley Waller and Harry Price, remains soft. They maintain contact throughout much of the piece, interlocking arms, pulling into counterbalances and reaching out to touch their partner’s face. At one point, they even seem to grapple with an invisible ‘them’, before re-attuning with each other.
The piece is so honest and special, I actually don’t want to write much about it in the hopes that you will go and witness it for yourself. It’s truly stunning.
The BalletBoyz Them/Us show is comprised of two 30-minute pieces, split by a 20-minute intermission. Go for their athleticism and exquisite technique, and you’ll leave moved by their artistry.
Did you see the BalletBoyz Them/Us? What were your favourite parts of the show? Let us know in the comments below.