writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

The Ballet Boyz

George Piper Dances
Sadler's Wells Theatre
London, England
September 23-27, 2003

By Jane Simpson
Special to DanceViewDC
© 2003

The story so far: The Ballet Boyz are William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, who left the Royal Ballet in 1999 to join Tetsuya Kumakawa's K-Ballet in Japan. Disillusionment set in after a couple of years, and they returned to London to set up their own company. It's official name is George Piper Dances (George and Piper being their middle names), but most people still talk about 'the Ballet Boyz', which was the title of a series of television films they made about their last season with the Royal Ballet and their time in Japan. One of their trademarks is that they've continued to use video film of themselves— rehearsals, cities they've played in and so on as linkage for their programmes—this can be a bit blokey/jokey but they're getting better at it. The Kiev-trained Oxana Panchenko has danced with GPD almost from the beginning, and for the current tour they've increased the company to five for the first time.

The company's twin aims are to make interesting new work and to bring in a new audience—"normal people who've never been to a dance performance", according to a recent interview. I should think nine companies out of ten the world over would subscribe to these objectives, but at least so far as the first one is concerned, GPD is more successful than most: their show at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London opened with a world premiere by William Forsythe, followed by another one by Christopher Wheeldon. Not bad for a tiny company only two years old. Forsythe's Steptext (which is scheduled for their Washington appearance) has been in their repertoire from the beginning, and the relationship they've built up with the choreographer has now produced an almost complete rewrite of Approximate Sonata, I, V, cut down from the original ten dancers to just two— Trevitt and Pankova on the opening night. It starts with Trevitt alone on stage, snarling and posturing as the score growls along with him; he's interrupted by a spoken instruction about his arm positions, and when Pankova joins him there's an air of trial and error about what they do, as if they were still at the rehearsal stage. I found it quite enthralling—it's pure dance, quite rare for Forsythe these days, and much more immediately accessible than most of the work I've seen from him.

One of GPD's success last season was a compilation of very short works by five choreographers, cutely entitled Critics Choice *****. Wheeldon contributed a pas de deux to music by Philip Glass, and he's now expanded that into a half-hour piece for the full company. It's called Mesmerics, and the way the groupings flow and change is indeed almost hypnotic. A beautiful and satisfying work, one that I look forward to seeing many times. It was extremely well danced, too, with Monica Zamora (until very recently a principal of the Birmingham Royal Ballet) and Hubert Essakow (ex-RB and K-Ballet) joining Trevitt, Pankova and Nunn.

The second half of the programme was rather less successful. Cathy Marston has made better work than Non Exeunt. She's interested in non-linear narrative, and has made some very promising experiments in the genre: this one, an encounter between Ophelia and Lady MacBeth, didn't really come off. In the preceding video she told how she'd originally envisioned the piece simply as a private encounter between two women, and I think she'd have done better to stick with that. The Shakespearean overtones seemed contrived and we didn't learn anything new about either of the women. The final piece, Russell Maliphant's Critical Mass, has become Nunn and Trevitt's signature work, making a highly popular ending to many of their performances. It's a long duet, broken only by a brief solo for Nunn, and the complex partnering makes huge demands on their trust in each other. This time round, though, I found it rather less exciting than before. The sense of danger and risktaking was missing: maybe they've just got too good at it. (In Washington they'll be dancing a later Maliphant work, Torsion, which they've done much less often.)

This is a strong programme, though, and unlike anything we see from any other British company. We wondered to start with if GPD would just coast along on the back of the Boyz' excellent publicity campaign, but in fact they're establishing a unique and valuable identiy for themselves, leaving me looking forward to whatever they do next.

The photo, from the British Arts Council web site's page on the company, is credited: image: Torsion. Photographer: Hugo Glendinning.

The George Piper Dancers will make its U.S. debut in Washington, D.C. on October 21, at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium (sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society) and will appear in New York at the Joyce November 4-9.


Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 1
September 29, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Jane Simpson





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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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