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Flash Review 2, 4-2: Boys will be Boyz
For George Piper, it's a Male Thing

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- Performing new work by William Forsythe and Russell Maliphant at Queen Elizabeth Hall last weekend, as well as Christopher Wheeldon's "Mesmerics" (previously reviewed here), George Piper Dances demonstrated its skill at taking on diverse and demanding material. While the company members, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn (who launched GPD through their success with their BBC Channel 4 documentary 'Ballet Boyz') with three other Royal Ballet protegees, share an ingrained balletic way of moving, they make brave attempts at the deconstructed ballet style of Forsythe's work and the fluid gluey characteristics of Maliphant's.

Forsythe's "Approximate Sonata, I, 5" starts as a solo that resembles an imitation of Frankenstein's monster walking down stage. After pulling ghoulish faces to an equally ghoulish sound score, Trevitt stops to ask an imaginary director if he is doing okay. The 'director' (Nunn) replies, and the two men banter about how Trevitt is going to scare the children in the audience. Trevitt's grotesque solo then develops into a spoofy duet with Monica Zamora, who is as deadly serious in her demeanor as Trevitt is comical. It is clear that the effect is meant to be that of a rehearsal as they both suddenly stop and Trevitt asks her to repeat a particularly tricky section. He is the relaxed jokey one dressed in electric blue satin pants, while she is unamused and deadpan in a severe black leotard, the straight woman to his humorous role. Forsythe's choreography is interesting; the movement seems to run through the dancers' bodies like an itchy rash. It consists of fast fragmented phrases, the articulation of limbs which creates angles and broken lines, as well as the juxtaposition of tense upright positioned torsos with floppy released ones.

Following "Approximate Sonata" is George Piper Dances's characteristic film documentary, which takes us behind the scenes in order to reveal what the life of 'jobbing dancers on the road' is really all about. The company always travels to the home country of the choreographer they choose to work with, so this first clip shows Nunn and Trevitt in Germany with Forsythe. This is up close and personal; we see Trevitt in the bath, in his car, in the studio, in bed -- nearly every detail of his and Nunn's working day accompanied by their droll, casual conversations. The transmission of such anecdotal, off-the-record information is what audiences love about these ballet professionals, as it breaks down the image of dancers being stuck up, pretentious and aloof. This down-to-earth, boy next door image is one that is cultivated by Nunn and Trevitt and is an essential part of the company's 'accessible' packaging.

It was Maliphant's "Broken Fall" (which has already won a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award in London) that I found really captivating. The cool, detached look of Maliphant's previous work changes to one which is highly sensuous, glamorous and theatrical in "Broken Fall." The lighting is sensational; hung spot lights in an otherwise dark stage reveal the figures of Nunn and Trevitt and bathe them in a hot, steamy atmosphere.

They dance subtle slow movements separately, before Oxana Panchenko appears out of the shadows, dressed in a sequined crop top and tiny skirt, walking on stage with the feline presence of a super-model. For the rest of the piece the dancers perform as an intense 'menage a trois' in which she literally climbs all over them, perches on a shoulder or a thigh, then falls in abandonment, only to be caught quickly by either one. The group of three hardly break contact throughout and Panchenko is like the lynch-pin that binds the men together. Trevitt's and Nunn's grounded muscular appearances contrast to her fine fragility and her slight frame seems to soar above their heads as she is passed from one to the other. There are more dramatic lighting moments, such as when a whole bank of bluish spotlights appear again suspended low and change the environment to one that looks cooler and less claustrophobic. The filmic soundscore by Barry Adamson changes from being theatrically forceful to spiritually uplifting while the dancers regroup, breaking off their contact momentarily to pace around the stage in a group formation.

It's gripping but my only gripe is that Panchencko doesn't have any other role except as that of a body to be lifted, caught and carried until the very end when she has a few moments of her own glory as she performs an astonishingly articulate solo. All in all it's work for the boys centered around Nunn and Trevitt, whereas the women have secondary roles, roles that are typical ballet ones which position women as mainly decorative. While George Piper Dances seeks to break down some of the hierarchies within the ballet world, it doesn't really challenge the aesthetic.

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