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Rebels of the dance world: the Ballet Boyz.

Let’s Hear It for the Boyz
By Mae G. Banner

George Piper Dances presents Ballet Boyz
The Egg, Oct. 30

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt have found the formula to make ballet exciting. Mix new choreography with steely technique, swirl in charm and good humor, and spike with a dash of reality TV.

Their dish, co-created in 2001, is called George Piper Dances (a blend of their middle names), but they’re better known as Ballet Boyz, the name Britain’s youth-oriented TV Channel 4 gave to the duo’s fast-paced diaries of their working lives. These video clips of airports and hotel rooms, rehearsals and goof-ups—which Nunn and Trevitt film and edit every day—have made them hot as rock stars at home.

Trevitt and Nunn showed 8-minute clips, including views of downtown Albany and rehearsal scenes, as disarming lead-ins to their program of three contemporary ballets last Thursday at the Egg.

This works surprisingly well. One minute, we’re watching choreographer Christopher Wheeldon tweak the steps of his Mesmerics (2003). Then, before we know it, the on-screen sound of Philip Glass’ cello music and the glow of stage lights have segued to the living stage, and we’re watching the actual dance.

Mesmerics, a chamber ballet for five, is formal, symmetrical. Yet, it pushes ballet’s precision to the outer edge in its use of pretzel arms, deep bends from the waist, falls, rolls, coils and tangled trios in which two men pass a woman back and forth, lift her, catch her as she jumps unimaginably high, and turn her under their arms.

All the dancers, including Hubert Essakow, Oxana Panchenko and Monica Zamora, have impressive international ballet pedigrees. In Mesmerics, they are hypnotic and daring. The men do skeins of pirouettes for action, not for show. All five stand together in extreme fifth position for stillness, not display.

The evening began with William Forsythe’s Steptext (1984), originally made for Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet. Set to sampled swatches of Bach’s Chaconne No. 4 in D minor, the dance pits Zamora against the three men. She takes no prisoners. Snaky, but risky, Steptext is a contest of pushes and pulls, big stretches and grand jetés. Forsythe quotes briefly from Balanchine’s Apollo, but thrusts this dance into quite another supple, edgy world, where everyone’s threatening to go off-balance, but is saved from falling by a last-minute turn or jump.

Nunn and Trevitt topped off the program with Torsion (2002), a duet in denim choreographed by Russell Maliphant to an original sound score by Richard English. Based on the touch and response of contact improvisation, Torsion is human physics: leverage, stretch, spiral. Two bodies grapple gently or swing in rhythm like a two-headed yo-yo. One crumples in on himself and twists up again like a coiled spring. It’s smooth and powerful.

Tired of dancing classical ballet’s fusty prince and porter roles, Trevitt and Nunn fled the Royal four years ago, videocams in hand, to find rockier, more interesting pastures. George Piper Dances will likely have a long life on stage, but, someday, when their dancing slows down, these guys have a great career ahead of them as filmmakers.

Working Holiday

National Museum of Dance, Nov. 1

TapFusion, a young and eager New York City-based company finished a week’s residency at Saratoga’s National Museum of Dance with a sampler of five dances, including a new work in progress. The residency was arranged by former museum director Jacques Burgering, who was a colleague of founder-choreographer Barry Blumenfeld at American University in Washington, D.C.

Blumenfeld’s new dance (working title Vacancy No), like his other works, combines briskly tapping feet with elongated modern-dance bodies and fluid arms.

Moving to music of Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass, Blumenfeld and three women—Jeanne Schickler, Jennifer Uzzi, and Courtney Poulos—danced without touching, each in their own space, performing long phrases of varied moves in different planes. One dancer would do a sequence, then two others would repeat it.

A nice bit was Poulos’ cross-footed traveling step from stage left to right, taps clicking all the way.

Blumenfeld, who is a sketch comedian as well as a dancer, did excerpts from two solo works, The Road Less Traveled and Still Life With Dancer. In the first, he whirled like a leaf in a windstorm, turning while traveling, punctuating his phrases with sudden starts and stops. In Still Life, he tried ballet, disco and Latin dancing, but never quite fit in. His jetés or hip sways kept turning into tap.

To the recorded sound of a cracking ruler, the dancer was repeatedly smacked on the head or zapped with an electric charge. He was cartoony, but endearing.

Uzzi danced a barefoot, percussive solo, the Third Blessing from a longer work called Seven Blessings that was inspired by a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. She began in a deep squat, rubbing the earth with her hands and shifting her weight from thigh to thigh. She slapped her palms and feet on the floor, then built to a full-body symphony of heels (of hands and feet), toes, palms, and body-slaps. Her hands slapping on the floor would propel her whole body around in a spin. Fast spatters of feet led to jumps and turns and a final bold stance, her arms lifted high to heaven.

All five dancers did the final, jazzy Subway Observations, part tap, part mime, all comedy. Dressed in slightly odd street clothes, they were New York characters who leaned way over the (invisible) platform, watching for a train, or strap-hangers, swaying and lurching to the clickety-clack of the wheels. I could smell hot steel on steel.

Performed on a bare dance floor in the museum’s Swyer Studios and with the lights on, the concert looked more like a dress rehearsal than a formal show. Blumenfeld gave informal introductions to each dance, making friendly contact with the audience. He thanked Burgering for the gift of time to make new work, away from the pressure of the city.

—Mae G. Banner

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