Balletboyz: Them/Us at Sadler’s Wells
Sadler’s Wells these days is far from the Dickens-era debauchery that made it such an infamous venue, and you would be wrong to believe that BalletBoyz’s track-suited troupe signalled a return to a less nuanced era. Instead, it marked the venue’s continued reputation for staging powerful and accessible performances, as the dance company hosted an enthralling two-part evening entitled Them/Us.
The opening act of Them was a powerful showcase of individuals made communal. The daunting outline of a three-dimensional square was the only set, manipulated throughout the performance, flipped and shoved as a site of individual expositions, collective entrapment and acrobatic manoeuvres. The humorous, elaborate handshakes between Benjamin Knapper and Bradley Walker snowballed into entangled masses of pairs, trios, and more. Knapper was a highlight of the opening act as his erratic solo sequence resembled the tail-end of a night out, full of explosive drama and stumbling intent, inspiring shock and awe in equal measure. The plucked, often atonal, music composed by long-term BalletBoyz collaborator Charlotte Harding provided an eerie soundtrack, a perfect parallel for the jerking rhythms of the dancers which culminated in a jubilant, uniform display of solidarity.
A stark contrast to the energetic Them, the drab, dour tone of Us set a bleak note as the performers’ grey, monk-like shifts spoke volumes. The ensemble’s movements were symptomatic of each other, reflections of militaristic efficiency set against monochromatic lighting. At times, they seemed to be executing perfectly poised drills, while at others they stood just staring, vibrating on the spot with tangible tension. The arpeggiated, mournful score by Keaton Henson seemed at odds with the cold efficiency of the choreography by Olivier Award-winning Christopher Wheeldon. However, the sublime, forlorn duet that dominated Us broke powerfully from the regimented performance, an emotionally charged portrayal of a pair struggling to find recognition and their own expression amongst a hard-defined crowd.
BalletBoyz are often acclaimed for their ability to make dance appealing to all. Yet, the ease and prowess with which they cycle through the basic tenets of personal emotion – togetherness, individuality, isolation – proves that Them/Us is not merely appealing to the human condition, through evocative dance and music, it is simply of it.
Balletboyz: Them/Us is at Sadler’s Wells from 5th March until 9th March 2019. For further information and nationwide tour dates visit the theatre’s website here.