Reviews for Life.

The Guardian – Judith Mackrell
★★★★

William Trevitt and Michael Nunn have bold instincts when commissioning works for their company BalletBoyz, and when their choices pay off, as they do in this double bill, they can feel inspired. The first of the two works, by Pontus Lidberg, makes me want to see everything that the choreographer has made. The second, by Javier De Frutos, is funnier than any dance I’ve seen in ages.

Lidberg’s Rabbit is a work of rare craft, which combines a weirdly surreal imagination with meticulous restraint. It opens to a bare, glowingly illuminated stage, and a man in vaguely Edwardian dress who is seated meditatively on a large swing. As he starts to dance a slow, inward solo, he’s joined by a second man, similarly dressed but wearing the large furry head of a rabbit.

This imagery, with its overtones of Lewis Carroll and the nonsense tradition, is key to the compelling strangeness with which Lidberg explores his theme: the dynamic of loneliness and the power of the group. As the first dancer tries to accommodate the shapes of his dancing to that of the rabbit man, the stage is invaded by more rabbits who hop, skip and roll across the space with a barrelling force.

Taking his cue from his Górecki score, which alternates between delicate pointillist percussion and roaring dissonance, Pontus elaborates on the relationships that evolve. There are quietly questioning duets where the movement seems to rise and fall with the pressure of emotion, and chuggingly aggressive dances between rival clans of rabbits and men. The work ends with just two of the dancers circling each other in a dialogue of tender, wary irresolution: no trite conclusions, just a world of layered emotion made inexplicably potent.

De Frutos wanted to make a dance about the aftermath of a death, and considering it rude to kill off another person, he made it about his own.

For Fiction, he has imagined himself being fatally injured by a piece of falling scenery during the work’s premiere, and commissioned the critic Ismene Brown to write his obituary. Her text – marvellously, camply narrated – provides part of the work’s “score”. The 10 dancers, grouped around a rehearsal barre, react to the literal meaning of the words with comic, confused expressions. But they also dance to the words’ rhythms in ensembles of intricately braided, swinging movement.

As the text is replaced by Ben Foskett’s music (played live, like the Górecki), De Frutos delves deeper into the dancers’ relationships: some who comfort, some who jockey for power. Occasionally this choreography lacks focus, doodling and dipping a bit, and the work is at its best when it highlights one of the men: shy Marc Galvez, who is most shell-shocked with grief for his dead choreographer but who gradually emerges as the dancer with the most nerve and wit. As Galvez ends the work, discoing with a blithe and solitary joy to a Donna Summer anthem, De Frutos is clearly imagining himself rising from the dead.


 

Evening Standard – Lyndsey Winship

The show may be called Life, but loneliness and death are the real themes tackled here by the 10-strong all-male Balletboyz in their latest double bill.

Loneliness comes courtesy of Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg, new to UK audiences but fast gaining an international reputation for his classically influenced contemporary dance. Rabbit shows us lovely long smooth threads of movement, minus hard edges — all soft centre and no crusts — and the simplicity of shape and form matches the slow, sad Górecki soundtrack. A central character, for all his interactions with others, bodies lifting, cradling and cajoling each other, remains ultimately alone. He’s surrounded by rabbits, or at least men in waistcoats and furry masks. Why rabbits? Who knows, but it lends the piece a pleasing strangeness and sense of alienation.

The death belongs to choreographer Javier De Frutos, impaled on a shard of his own scenery as we’re told at the beginning of Fiction — it’s not true, you see, but it’s a good ruse for a piece. What results is not as riotously celebratory or dramatically grief-stricken as you’d imagine for a choreographer who, as the narrated obituary tells us, always courted controversy. While we listen, the dancers weave around a practice barre in the centre of the stage with quick, intricate moves, breaking off for brief forays into romance, confrontation and Donna Summer. It’s hard to make real connections with De Frutos’s biography or mortality in general, but Fiction does boast a brilliant, final moment that says life is worth living.


 

Telegraph – Vanessa Keys
★★★★

Over the years, Javier de Frutos has been censored by the BBC for staging a show with a deformed pope and pregnant nuns, scored a full length ballet with the Pet Shop Boys and once received a review that called his work “the biggest piece of crap ever seen”. Never one to shy away from controversy, the Venezuelan-born choreographer’s latest stunt is staging his own death for the sake of art, complete with a professionally-written obituary and a gaggle of bereaved dancers. Appropriately, this new work is called Fiction, and is the second half of double bill Life, the new BalletBoyz show at Sadler’s Wells that orbits around life and death, light and dark, yin and yang.

As always with de Frutos, there’s the risk that provocation will teeter into self indulgence, but the choreographer’s shrewd storytelling skills are asserted from the first scene. Bright stage lights bring into focus 10 lean, lithe dancers – the entirety of the BalletBoyz ensemble – chatting and stretching at the barre before a dance rehearsal is due to begin. Suddenly, they’re interrupted: their beloved choreographer Javier de Frutos has been struck by a shard of glass and is dead.

A hyperbolic mix of staccato orchestral music, voiceovers, love ballads and jaunty piano notes accompanies the dancers as they descend into anarchy. There’s a raw, almost uncomfortable physicality in the way the dancers contort their bodies as they throw themselves across the floor, sometimes using the metal barre as a way to play at death. BalletBoyz are one of today’s genuine ensemble companies, and de Frutos has used their chemistry to his and their advantage, delivering choreography so effortless that it looks entirely improvised.

That’s certainly not the case during the first half of the double bill. Rabbit, Swedish choreographer and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg’s ode to childhood, is so wonderfully precise, so cleverly comedic that it’s akin to watching a dozen wind-up toys set off at the same time. Lidberg opens his narrative with a young man dancing with someone in a rabbit mask, both dressed in public schoolboy attire, all long socks and shrunken sleeves. As more rabbits roll onto the stage and loyalties shift and change, questions around acceptance, loneliness and conformity seep into the air. There’s lots to interpret here.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though: Lidberg’s slapstick choreography had the audience in fits of giggles and gives the BalletBoyz the perfect environ in which to showcase their agility and athleticism. Rabbit isn’t as stirring as Fiction but together, this is a powerhouse double bill that reminds us of the absurdity of life.


 

 

Compelling…Potent… Funnier than any dance I’ve seen in ages
The Guardian

They look tremendous. They are tremendous. A daring, skilled creation
Financial Times ****

Rowdy and intimate, clever, funny and affecting
The Times

The fur flies – and hops, skips and pirouettes – in an inspired and funny programme…Compelling
The Guardian ****

Dazzling…Brilliant…Exhilarating
The Sunday Times ****

A powerhouse double bill… So wonderfully precise, so cleverly comedic…Gives BalletBoyz the perfect environ in which to showcase their agility and athleticism
The Daily Telegraph

From The Night of the Lepus to barre-room bullies? The BalletBoyz are back.
The Stage ****

 

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