BalletBoyz’s company of young male dancers, theTalent, more than lives up to its name. In Iván Pérez’s Young Men the troupe displays a muscular musicality and finesse. Separated into different sections, each segment of the work explores the emotional, psychological and physical cost of war (specifically WW1) on the young men, barely out of boyhood, who were sent to its front lines. Pérez creates a visceral visual language of combat. The group of ten dancers are sent splintering and skidding across the stage, hurtling through ragged jumps and combustive turns. There are nurturing nuances to the movement as well, as the soldiers lift, cradle and reanimate their fallen comrades. The solo for a shell-shocked soldier (Andrea Carrucciu) has particular pathos. Nearly naked, he stumbles around the space, extending splayed toes on sickled feet, while his body contorts, racked with shudders. A second soldier arrives and becomes an ambiguous source of both support and suppression – he scoops up the traumatised man and in the same deft movement forces his quivering head down. Eventually the sick man is manipulated back into uniform.
The inclusion of two female dancers in the cast provides an interesting dynamic. In one scene, a woman (Jennifer White) journeys to the front line to find her lover. Their union is a desperate whirl of contact punctuated by brief moments of intimate stillness, though finally – inevitably – they are wrenched apart. Pérez’s choreography also gives arresting physical form to the agony of a woman (Oxana Panchenko) left imagining the plight of soldiers. With her arms at crooked angles, she staggers and hobbles like a wounded creature. When she attempts to move backwards, her feet scrape and battle with the friction of the stage.
Unfortunately there are elements in the second half of the piece that don’t work so well. With rucksacks and khakis on, the male group go through a drill of balances and leaps to the beat of a pounding drum played live on stage. While this is all physically impressive and tightly in time, it lacks the emotional resonance of what has come before and instead looks a bit like an artfully choreographed advert for the Marines. The tension sags again when a mimed card game descends into a fight in the fraternity. As the pair grapple with each other, other dancers run earnestly across the stage with looks of concern. Again, this doesn’t do much to portray the complex reality of war, brotherhood and machismo. Despite this, however, the piece ends on a poignant note: a shattered soldier returns and clings to two bewildered women who are unable to quell his suffering.