George Piper Dance/Ballet Boyz

'Steptext,' 'Mesmerics,' 'Torsion'

by Lewis Whittington

October 23, 2003 -- Annenberg Center, Philadelphia

William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, a.k.a. the Ballet Boyz are traversing the globe like wild animals, hunting down choreographers for new works and filming fresh footage of dancemakers for an upcoming series on Britain's Channel 4 that will follow up their breakaway "reality" show about The Royal Ballet. They are also dancing their hearts out with three guests artists -- Hubert Essakow, Oxana Panchenko and Monica Zamora -- comprising a fab-five embarking on all points west in the US.

Kicking off the Annenberg Center's 21st Dance Celebration Series a week before performing at the Joyce Theater in New York, the troupe's energy carried a terrific evening of dance. The concert was interspersed with film snippets of their up-close and personal travelogue that took us everywhere from running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (ala Rocky) to Trevitt slipping into a tub somewhere in Germany after a punishing day of rehearsal with William Forsythe, whose work "Steptext" was re-tooled on the troupe by the choreographer.

"Steptext" looked starker than ever with the house lights up at Annenberg's sterile amphitheatre but was all together danced in brilliant form. Scored to Johan Sebastian Bach's "Chaconne No. 4 in D minor for violin," Forsythe devised a dance sketchbook which derails music and dance into fragments which essay a dynamic tutorial.

And even with the jarring first half danced a little heavily, when the company locked it into Forsythe's abstractions, it was a hypnotic and challenging dialogue between ballet and modern dance, dancer body and dancer mind- framing lyrically course moments mining the group's visceral approach and committed artistry.

During the piece, the music is cut off unexpectedly and is played in sound shards, which strand the dancer. Forsythe decomposes, which builds a bare bulb expose from the practitioner's point of view. This seemingly unscripted virtuosic dancing brought brilliant moments from each dancer, especially Trevitt, whose central solo of dramatic tours en l' air, razor-sharp positions and lyrical arm work is thrillingly articulate. Later, Panchenko, flies in a furious trio, using her legs like sabers with Trevitt and Nunn, who trade off positions and pace her to breathtaking hyperextensions.

BB's ex-colleague from the Royal Ballet Christopher Wheeldon made "Mesmerics" for the them, and from its opening isometric movements by Hubert Essakov, this hypnotic piece builds and is completely realized on these dancers. Philip Glass' score (from the film "Mishima") is circuitous- atypically serene for the composer -- and Wheeldon has the dancers oscillating in dramatic upper torso patterns and sumptuous tableaux with duets prone on the floor creating sensual bodyscapes and sculptural friezes. A simple canon line is formed and Wheeldon has his dancers ebb and flow in soft asymmetric patterns.

Not surprisingly, the disappointment was Russell Malliphant's "Torsion" a ponderous exercise mixing disciplines set to a jarring techno-industrial score "Firefly, Choice, Man and Finalefly" by Richard English. Malliphant studied capoeira in South America and uses it as a springboard off of the BB's classical background. The choreographer studied this dance art, but even with dramatic moments, this is a dubious transfer on the Boyz. The flesh is willing, but the dance spirit is adrift. Indeed, the inverted movements are too underlined and the playful pugilism of this style is lost in studied execution. There is no velocity in the throws or any ease in the power moves.

Trevitt takes center stage with a pirouette run on his knees, difficult enough, but still is a pale imitation to say the Georgian State dancers who execute this with fearless velocity. Capoeria's signature kicks are usually done with menacing speed or in slow motion.  Trevitt and Nunn are paced in the middle and the dynamic is erased.  There seems to be a build-up to a breakout segment, but that does occur.

There is an effective phrase that has them hold each other like a gun, but the capoeira moves are performed as tableaux.  Real practitioners move faster, more daringly and hit those inverted friezes with a magician's sleight of hand or body, in this case.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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