BalletBoyz’s young company offer their response to the First World War, developed from a short film shown on the 70th anniversary of D-Day on Channel 4. For this show, the company has dropped the suffix of “The Talent” that has been present since 2010, when the “original” BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, recruited a “next generation” of dancers – those young men are the BalletBoyz now.
There are no cheeky short films accompanying the performance this time around but, as a sign that the company remains just as unconventional, there is a 12-piece band on stage. The dancers are all of a similar age as the soldiers who fought, which gives the piece its potency.
Singer/songwriter-cum-composer Keaton Henson has created an original score for Young Men, and while some sections seem too dependent on the morbid sounds of the cello, the musicians on stage are a compelling sight. The percussive rhythm perfectly captures the routine of military training.
The men are dressed in earthy colours with splashes of ruby, on a dark, plain stage. In the unison parts, Iván Pérez’s choreography looks almost commercial. The dancers are so glossy it’s easy to forget that the USP in the early days of The Talent was that they did not all have conventional training. The addition of women to the company -for the first time – gives a richer texture to this more narrative work. This is evident in the “Desperate Disguise” scene, in which Jennifer White walks through a crowd of men, seemingly unable to recognise the person she is looking for. When they finally embrace, it is both romantic and maternal and, as conflict drags them apart once again, it is with kicking arms and feet.
But it is the men who leave the deepest impression, particularly in one memorable scene, “Shell Shock”, which sees Andrea Carrucciu twisting and contorting his body so that each joint looks out of place, before being clinically dressed and dispatched.
There are some nice observations – the training session in which the men are always on one leg, never fully secure; a delicate touching of lovers’ faces; their arms flung out, bodies falling forward, resembling both jumping out of planes and plunging to their deaths.
That said, some of the choreography is a little too literal: two men diving for cover at the sound of explosions, or the jogging-on-the-spot as seen in every film involving physical training. Pérez is also too reliant on the motif of “the fallen”. Over and over again, we see the men fall down, then get up, then down once more. While it can be argued that the repetition necessarily reflects the routine of combat, some moments simply blur into each other. Indeed, some parts look underdeveloped.
Often, simplicity is best, as evident in the final, poignant image of Young Men: under a row of bright lights, the dancers leap out into the unknown, their bodies increasingly filthy from dirt. There is no better showcase for this enthusiastic troop, their every fall committed, every jump fearless.