BECKET - The Boyz doth protest too much, methinks.
Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, who make up the UK-based choreographic duo Ballet Boyz, have added their voices to the "ballet is elite" refrain: In press statements and interviews they've expressed their frustration with what they see as classical dance's inaccessibility. If by elite they mean too-high ticket prices for audience members or expensive training for dancer wannabes, yes, those are problems well worth tackling.
Ballet - and dance in general - is esoteric, exotic by nature. Yet must we know everything? What's wrong with a little mystery in art?
Appearing at Jacob's Pillow this week, the Boyz are hoping to demystify classical dance one grand jeté at a time, beginning with the "behind-the-scenes" mini-films that introduce each of the program's four dances. And make no mistake: Nunn and Trevitt are charming and thoroughly engaging. As dancers, they and their comrades - Tim Morris and Oxana Panchenko - are the real deal, gorgeously trained.
Yet ironies abound: The adorable films not only don't make the choreography more accessible, they ultimately undermine the dances, three of which are so alike in movement that they blur together. Meanwhile, the actual ballet steps are bloated, pasted on like circus tricks.
"Broken Fall," choreographed in 2004 by Russell Maliphant, is a trio for Nunn, Trevitt, and Panchenko. Panchenko becomes a fetishized object, her hyperextended and hyperpliant body pushed, pulled, and tossed into one off-kilter position after another. She's disturbingly disaffected, preternaturally calm. Sometimes she's literally, breathtakingly, thrown from one man to another; though there's quite a lot of arresting partnering, mostly we see too much of the preparation to feel the shock of the unexpected.
Whereas "Broken Fall" is too long and never builds to a resolution or even a crisis, "EdOx" and "Propeller," two male/female duets, offer glimpses of complexity. "EdOx," choreographed by Rafael Bonachela, demonstrates the tricky balance of trust and vulnerability within a relationship. Morris drapes himself on Panchenko's back, his feet dragging on the floor as she soldiers forward; Panchenko kneels down to face Morris, grips his head with her hands, thus anchoring herself to him as she raises her body up to a big off-axis arabesque. Ultimately Morris softly collapses as Panchenko hovers over him, arms extended over her head, his angel to the end.
In Liv Lorent's 2006 "Propeller," Panchenko is treated like an inanimate doll. Nunn lifts her by pressing his hands to the side of her head. He promenades her around, and as defenseless as she seems, she keeps returning for more. Her independence waxes and wanes: now she is being dragged around by Nunn, like a reluctant girl waltzing on her father's shoes; now she jetés over the supine Nunn, who ferries her over, lifting her by her calves.
Striking, but alas, it's overwhelmingly similar to what's already gone on before. If the first three pieces were somehow interconnected - say, a trio of dances depicting the trajectory of Panchenko's character's relationships - this might work. Instead, stunning though she is, we get a bit tired of looking at Panchenko and her fantastic contortions.
In "Yumba vs. Nonino," Nunn and Trevitt spar and tango their way competitively across the stage, sending up all those ridiculous "reality" dance shows of late. Choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood (himself a judge on a British version of said shows), it's a fun, fluffy romp - but like "Broken Fall," some pruning would help.