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Reviews Dance Published 25 April 2016

Review: Life at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells ⋄ 20th - 24th April 2016

“Answering death with disco”: Anna Winter reviews BalletBoyz’s double bill at Sadler’s Wells.

Anna Winter
Life, performed by BalletBoyz at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Life, performed by BalletBoyz at Sadler’s Wells. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

During their last sojourn at Sadler’s, the BalletBoyz depicted the experience of war with urgent physicality and ragged grace. Their new double bill, Life, exerts a different sort of power, with both pieces containing stranger, more subtle choreographic offerings.

Pontus Lidberg’s Rabbit is a surreal fantasy that hints obliquely, as many dreams do, at deep-rooted fears and desires. Here, the power of the group and the loneliness of the outsider are played out in curious abstract fashion. The work opens with a gently illuminated stage, empty save for one figure on a wooden swing. He wears a slightly Edwardian getup of plus-fours and waistcoat. Eventually he rises and begins to dance a ruminative, restrained solo, the melancholy heightened by the elegiac bells of Górecki’s score. Another dancer enters – although similarly dressed, he has a furry rabbit head and a tail that sticks out perkily from his breeches. They begin to dance together through fluid passages of balletic motion that ribbon across the stage, descending softly to the floor before rising up into perfect lifts. There’s a sense of tentative companionship here – the non-rabbit seems to mould his movements on the other, his head cocked, hands pushing upwards in parallel where a pair of long ears might be.

Other rabbits roll onto stage, tumbling and hopping. There’s a weird, amusing moment where one, lying coquettishly with his chin propped on his hand, is dragged across the space by his leg. As the music veers from plaintive to frantic, so the rabbits begin a furious stomping dance. It’s a physical language that the other cannot enact. Aggressive passages suddenly turn jaunty, as the rabbits skip in tandem like enthusiastic schoolboys and skitter offstage. However, there’s no resolution here – the piece ends, as it began, with the questioning image of that solitary figure.

In brilliantly comic style, Javier de Frutos’s Fiction explores the idea that death, like life, is a matter of irresolution. Since it seemed rude to kill off anyone else, de Frutos has imagined his own demise, caused by a falling shard of plastic from the set of his latest show. A fake obituary, written by dance critic Ismene Brown, forms part of the score, fruitily narrated by familiar voices of Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi. As the actors’ voices hesitate and repeat certain phrases, the ten dancers gather around a barre in rehearsal clothes. They respond to the words with funny looks and moues. At the mention of ‘BalletBoyz’ two of them give a camp little plié. Eventually the rhythms of the narration propel them into streams of movement: they slump over the barre, jostle for position, sliding and vaulting under or over it.

The choreographer denies himself any worshipful mourning from his dancers. Instead there’s a sense of frustration, bubbling over into hostility, occasionally into moments of tenderness.

One dancer, Marc Galvez, wanders off, seemingly the most dazed and disturbed by the death. As he scrambles to escape, the others force him back and prop him up on the barre. But by the end he emerges with a new kind of authority, guiding others through phrases and modules of movement. Finally, he ecstatically capers alone to Donna Summer’s Last Dance, a gleefully camp rebuttal to the piece’s proposition, answering death with disco.

Life was on at Sadler’s Wells. Click here for more details.

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Anna Winter is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Life at Sadler’s Wells Show Info


Choreography by Pontus Lidberg and Javier de Frutos

Cast includes Ballet Boyz

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