Where can you go to sit back in your cushioned chair, relax with a glass of wine and watch gangs of hooligans in hoodies and tracksuits fight each other in darkened streets?
One answer could be found within Masrah al-Madina, which Friday and Saturday night hosted a performance by the U.K.’s all-male dance troupe Ballet Boyz. Less conceptual than some pieces at this year’s BIPOD, Ballet Boyz’s was a high-spirited celebration of strength, skill and the simple beauty of dance from one of the festival’s youngest troupes.
Former lead dancers with the Royal Ballet Michael Nunn and William Trevitt founded the company in 2001, with the aim of revitalizing ballet and conveying the appeal of dance to a younger generation.
Now retired, the two veterans have passed the baton to nine muscular young dancers from diverse backgrounds (modestly called “The Talent”), selected through a series of open auditions. Eight of them appeared in Beirut.
Ballet Boyz’s BIPOD performance was a beautifully articulated blend of classical and contemporary – arabesques and pirouettes juxtaposed against a consistently modern soundtrack and accompanied by video projections ranging from a reality-TV style audition scene to grainy, late-night-in-London film noir.
Friday’s show featured three works – “Torsion,” “Alpha” and “Void” – each of which succeeded in being both memorable and highly individual – despite the group’s blended dance style, which created natural similarities among the performances.
Originally choreographed as a duet for Nunn and Trevitt, Russel Maliphant’s “Torsion” works wonderfully for six-man ensemble. This mesmerizing, hypnotic number demonstrates the young dancers’ fluid partner-work, at once overtly masculine and surprisingly graceful.
Richard English’s score – a relentless beat overlaid with sounds of thunder, rain and an ambient electronic melody – allowed the dancers to execute a series of slow, sinuous duets in canon without losing momentum.
The work finished with a series of acrobatic rolls, lifts, twirls and somersaults in unison, evidently rooted in ballet but approaching circus skills in their lightning execution.
Paul Roberts’ “Alpha” followed – a slow-paced, nostalgic number, accompanied by acoustic guitar and Keaton Henson’s crooning heartfelt vocals about lost love.
The high point was a series of passages in which individual dancers were lifted by the group, carried aloft across the stage on a sea of raised arms and manipulated into slow-motion airborne backflips – a kind of synchronized crowd surf. One was tossed high in the air to perform a series of dizzying horizontal rolls before falling back into a net of human limbs.
The most interesting number – certainly for those audience members who like edgier, slightly darker work – was “Void,” by talented Czech choreographer Jarek Cemerek. The piece opened with a dimly lit, vaguely threatening video projection of narrow streets and alleyways lit by street lamps and the occasional headlights of a passing car.
When the dancers appeared in the projection, dressed in baggy trousers and hoodies, they looked like the kind of group most people would walk the long way home to avoid, loping en masse down the dark alleyways, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets.
Midway through the film, one of the performers slowly slunk on stage, almost invisible against the projected backdrop, dressed in socks, baggy trousers and a hooded sleeveless shirt. He moved to center stage for a lithe solo, spinning on the floor against the urban streets, in a combination of ballet and break-dance, oblivious to the three figures who skulked ominously in the shadows beyond the spotlight.
The performance soon descended into all-out gang warfare, set to a pulsing rock’n’roll soundtrack by Ondrej Dedecek with a pounding bass that shook the entire theater. The dancers clustered into two groups, hurling themselves from one side of the stage to the other in a series of attacks and rebuffs. The body language was threatening and each dancer’s allegiance changed too quickly to follow, until the scene resembled a riot as much as a gang fight.
The chaotic – almost exuberant – scene climaxed with the group turning on one individual, pushing him to the floor until he lay prone in a single spotlight, the other dancers arranged around the edge of the light in sudden stillness as if sobered by the consequences of a game that’s got out of hand.
The show finished on a literal high note. The entire troupe leapt into the air, arms raised, and, at the pinnacle of their parabola, the lights abruptly cut. Plunged into darkness, the triumphant image of airborne youth was burnt into the audience’s retinas.