by Emma Dougan

It’s fairly unusual to begin a ballet performance with ‘behind-the-scenes’ video footage. But then it’s also unusual to be almost knocked over by two young boys running to watch a ballet performance. The Balletboyz’ introduction to their ‘Greatest Hits’ combines their mission statement with their career history, and the general japery that arises when two classically-trained guys travel the world seeking their fortune. It also plays a vital role in bringing down the fourth wall always felt so strongly in ballet, and in heightening their work’s accessibility. In a form in which the artist is necessarily both creator and medium, the Boyz seem keen to emphasise the role of the human rather than the canvas. (This emphasis on shared humanity was sublimely epitomised by the sight of the superhumanly supple Oxana Panchenko resignedly munching a burger on an American sidewalk.)
The first piece of the night, ‘Broken Fall’, lost none of its sense of harmony through its focus on the human and the individual. Its fascination lay partly in the subverted expectations of synchronicity, which seemed the inevitable result of such close co-ordination. There were similar motifs passed around the trio, but each remained a single tone in a chord, rather than striking the same note. The attitude towards the stunning range of lifts was also refreshing, as the male dancers supported each other as well as Panchenko, who in turn struck out confidently, enforcing her own agency throughout.
The subsequent pieces featured both the enjoyment of movement for movement’s sake, and its power for non-verbal communication. Edox witnessed Panchenko and Tim Morris experiencing an almost childish wonder at their bodies’ power, while the relinquishing of physical boundaries in Propeller, an intensely intimate duet between Panchenko and Nunn, created a highly emotive piece laced with tenderness and eroticism.
The finale, a tango choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, was full of ‘fish out of water’ humour. We saw the dancers learning about an alien form (which is ‘all about discipline. ….And sequins’), and then saw their characters, both in suits evoking the East End diamond geezer, suffer bemusement at their own balleticism, and apprehension at what the other bloke might do next. While I would have enjoyed a finale in the Boyz’ native language, the humour, accessibility, and courage of this piece summed up the source of the Boyz’ charm – which will doubtless inspire others to discover the ballet’s potentials outside the classical arena.

Balletboyz – Greatest Hits (Oxford Playhouse, Friday 23rd January 2009)

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