United Kingdom Henson, Young Men: Balletboyz, Sadler’s Wells, London, 14.1.2015 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Andrea Carrucciu, Dalma Doman, Simone Donati, Flavien Esmieu, Marc Galvez, Adam Kirkham, David Ledger, Edward Pearce, Leon Poulton, Matthew Rees, Matthew Sandiford, Bradley Waller, Jennifer White
Musicians: Ben Foskett (conductor and arranger), Reinoud Ford (orchestral fixer), John Malcolm Moore (drums and electronics), James Maltby, Harry Penny (clarinets), James Pillai, Hugh Sisley, Phillippa Slack (horns), Richard Uttley (piano), Hannah Dawson, Thomas Gould (violins), Ruth Gibson, Simon Tandree (violas), Richard Birchall, Reinoud Ford (cellos), Ben Griffiths (double bass)
Choreography: Iván Pérez
Music: Keaton Henson
Lighting Designer: Jackie Shemesh
Costume Design: Carlijn Petermeijer
Although the cover on the programme shows a young man in the uniform of a First World War soldier, the clothes worn by the dancers of Young Men are less specific. Costume designer Carlijn Petermeijer and choreographer Iván Pérez have collaborated to produce a look for the men that does not pin the dance down to a particular war. If their soft, loose shirts in earth colours, buttoned to the neck, refer to any time period, it is to the 1980s. The clothes of the two women dancers echo more obviously those of the early twentieth century. But the long skirt of purple velvet that one of them wears is slit to the waist for ease of movement. The trousers of the other are similar to those by the avant-garde designer Paul Poiret.
Through its costume and its lighting (by Jackie Shemesh) Young Men creates a consistent and even surprisingly sombre atmosphere. From the start the men are broken. They fall. The two acts of the piece are divided into scenes. In the first, Aftermath of War, Dalma Doman searches among the staggering, falling soldiers as if for a lost husband, a lost son. With arms reaching out to one side in anguish, she resembles figures in the dark, late-nineteenth century paintings by Spanish artist Ignacio Zuloaga.
Pérez has devised a movement vocabulary that suits the Balletboyz, as a company, well (and without getting into all of a doodah about them being the Balletboyz). But it is in its details that Young Men works best. The second scene, Training a Soldier, turns dance into drill. It ends with a sergeant desperately repeating a harsh, single and incomprehensible instruction to an empty training ground. In Shell Shock, the dancer Andrea Carrucciu twists and contorts his body in a believable reflection of psychological turmoil. (It could have become a caricature, this dance, but it doesn’t.) Nightmares sees Jennifer White moving amongst the dehumanised soldiers, as if to find her lover, almost like a MacMillan heroine.
The second act is less successful. It starts piano with Homecoming, in which the memories of war continue to torture a soldier even as the two women try to embrace him. This scene is listed, in the programme, as ending the piece. (The new order is typed on a slip of paper.) It might have made a better close. For as it is Young Men finishes with Battlefield Landscape on a note that is too much like a rock concert. Keaton Henson’s music, poundingly present throughout (its performers behind a transparent screen at the back of the stage), is now all drums and electric guitar. The men make repeated leaps through vertical beams of light, twisting in the air before they fall. A change back to the order in the programme would be a return to the detail of the first act (and parts of the second) which make the piece interesting, and to the two women dancers whose presence does much to give it strength.