BalletBoyz strutting their stuff

For ten years, former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt were a remarkable double act – the toast of contemporary dance – they were The BalletBoyz.

They first met one another 25 years ago while going through their paces at The Royal Ballet School. The pair swiftly became stars in the main company and then just over ten years ago sent shock waves through the arts world by leaving the Royal Ballet to set up their own company.

The fledgling dance troupe, The George Piper Dances, became swiftly known as The BalletBoyz – helped, in no small measure, by the Channel 4 documentary series of the same name which the pair engineered to publicise their new venture.

Happily, one of the by-products of their independence is a dual career as pioneering dance film-makers – shooting both performance material and dance documentaries. I suspect that film-making may become increasingly important to the founders of the BalletBoyz as they have now decided to step into the wings and scale back their own performances.

As a result The BalletBoyz company have just recruited nine, young dancers to take male dance into the 21st century. Their new showcase called, modestly enough, The TALENT, is a compendium of three works which are designed to show off the skill, grace and athleticism of the re-born BalletBoyz.

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The evening features Paul Roberts’ Alpha and one of BalletBoyz’ signature pieces, Russell Maliphant’s Torsion, originally a tough-guy duet now re-worked as a thrilling sextet. Completing the line-up is Void, an adrenaline-fuelled ensemble piece choreographed by Jarek Cemerek, who won the honour of adding this piece to the BalletBoyz repertoire after competing against more than 160 choreographers from around the world. When I speak to William Trevitt he has just emerged from a rehearsal studio. Although they have The TALENT currently touring, they are already working on new works for the autumn tour. “It never stops,” William laughs.

With nine, youthful dancers in the company, with talk about Trevitt and Nunn stepping out of the spotlight, the word retirement lurks like an elephant in the room. I opt to go blundering in and tackle it head-on. I discover that William Trevitt still has some nimble footwork and sidesteps me. He won’t be drawn on whether he and Michael are stepping down for good.

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“At the moment we’re not doing much but I am a little scared of saying that we are retired or won’t be doing anything ever again. At the moment we are happy to be shining the spotlight on a new, invigorated, younger generation.”

He said they had been considering stepping back for a while. The arrival of their 40th birthdays and aching bodies in the morning had alerted them to the passage of time.

“We had been thinking about how we’d go about introducing some younger dancers into the company. We decided that the best way to do it was if we dropped out completely. We had to re-invent the way that the company was perceived. It seemed to us that youth was the way forward.”

He said that they had considered and then discarded the notion of creating character roles for themselves. “I think that would have been a bit of a cop-out, just to turn up and do bits and pieces and slowly fade away.

“So what we decided to do, in the end, was to pass on what we had learned to younger, fitter bodies. Also we found that all the work that is required to keep yourself fit enough to perform on stage, to a high standard, meant that we had no time left for anything else. We have families but also in creative terms you need time to think, time to plan and try out ideas.

“We thought that we could better spend our time producing a really good show and have them do the dancing.”

The new dancers they have recruited come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have a wide spread of different dance training. In fact one of their number Matthew Rees has wide experience but no formal dance training at all. Had he not been accepted into the BalletBoyz then he was in the process of joining the Royal Marines.

“People have said that we seem to have recruited dancers from every conceivable dance background and to be honest that is exactly what we set out to do. We were looking for a diverse range of characters, skills and techniques.

“What we did was hold an open audition and said ‘Any young man who wants to dance for us, come along and show us what you can do.’ We decided that we wouldn’t read any CVs, we would base our decisions purely on what we saw, who really stood out in the audition.

“What we were looking for in a dancer was someone who catches your eye and is interesting to watch. If you can see that in an audition, regardless of their training or experience, then you’ve got it made. They’re the people you are going to want.”

He said that the other requirement was that he wanted nine dancers who would work together as a group rather than be nine highly talented individuals. He and Michael were looking to create an ensemble, a company who worked for one another and had a visible group dynamic.

Although he is very pleased with the dancers they have, he feels that the best thing for the BalletBoyz, as a creative unit, is to have a company that evolves over time rather than have nine dancers who remain unchanged for the next 10 years.

“I think what will happen is that one or two will leave and be replaced and it will gradually change and move on and be re-energised with fresh talent. Also, depending on what the next project is, we may need some new skills, we may need people with a different background, different techniques, who knows?”

He said that he was excited that the world of theatre and dance was opening up and the lines between different art forms were becoming increasingly blurred. Theatre, dance, music and art were now all crossing over and one was informing another.

“I have always thought that that was the great thing about our name BalletBoyz, if we’re not doing pure ballet, then we can do anything. That’s really what we are about. we want to involve all different kinds of theatre, performance and different styles of dance from hip-hop to ballet. We want to embraxce everything from strict ballet to contemporary dance to modern dance, street dance. When you have a mixture like that, it’s fantastic to watch them rehearse and create the work. They are all teaching one another, there’s no hierarchy. Everyone is learning from everyone else.”

Rehearsals are seen as a collective endeavour and the talent and skill of the dancers are harnessed and given direction by Nunn and Trevitt. The key to the current show is versatility and showcasing lots of different styles in one evening. You get to see all the different facets of the dancers and that is what the show is about. We are looking for contrasts – not only within the show itself but with what else is on offer.”

He said that the title started off a little tongue-in-cheek but as the show has developed he has come to regard it as a statement of fact in-so-far as it relates to the prowess of the performers. “Their ability and youthful vigour is incredible to watch. When you see it raw, on stage, in front of your eyes, you realise that they are The Talent. There’s a sense of fearlessness which at 40 you start to lose. You suddenly become aware of your limitations.”

Film-making and promoting dance to new audiences is something which has become an increasing priority in recent years. He said that the pair of them had been involved in film-making and photography together from their earliest days at the Royal Ballet. “It’s a skill which we enjoy and are still developing. We have a lot to learn still. We have had no formal training and have just picked things up as we have gone along. We make lots of mistakes. We are completely self-taught but we have the advantage of completely loving our subject and we just want to find new, exciting ways to show dance off to its best effect and to introduce it to people who perhaps have not encountered it before.”

He said that his ambition was to come up with a new way to show dance on television. He says that up until now that dance has always lost something in the translation – some of the magic, some of the appeal and the detail is lost by taking dance off the stage and into a television environment. He believes that by experimenting with different cameras, different editing techniques, then some of that magic can be reclaimed.

“We are always looking at finding better ways of making that jump.”

He said that he would love for people to just turn up and enjoy an evening of wonderful entertainment. “I don’t like the fact that some people feel they need to have studied or read up on a piece before they come out. I want them to turn up, enjoy themselves, see a fantastic evening’s entertainment and it just happens to be contemporary dance. I just want to opportunity to show what we do to the widest range and the greatest number of people possible. There should be no barriers to dance and I will do anything I can not to scare them off.”

He said that one of his greatest wishes continues to be that some young lad discovers his future career at one of their shows. “You can imagine a young lad being dragged slightly reluctantly along to the theatre one night, he sees the BalletBoyz in action, and suddenly it all makes sense. He knows what he wants to do with his life. I would be very happy if that was to happen.”

William said that the BalletBoyz are currently working with Ipswich-born dancer and choreographer Liam Scarlett devising a new piece for the autumn tour. “It’s early stages yet but we have some rehearsal footage on our website if anyone wants to check it out.”

n The TALENT by the BalletBoyz is at Snape Maltings Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday February 24-25. The event is being staged in conjunction with DanceEast.

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