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Balletboyz: “Young Men”

Is it possible for a work of art to communicate the darkness, the suffering and angst of the First World War?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

BalletBoyz artists Edward Pearce and Bradley Waller in a scene from Iván Pérez’s “Young Men”(Photo credit: George Piper)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Is it possible for a work of art to communicate the darkness, the angst and the suffering inflicted on the soldiers during the terrible conflict, World War I which ended one hundred years ago?  Can a company of healthy, vibrant young men convince that they are experiencing what ordinary fighting men experienced:  the filth, the blood, the disease and the shell shock?  The answer is no, but BalletBoyz, the British dance troupe, came very close with Young Men, at The Joyce Theater, combining a well-made film that realistically reproduced battle conditions with live action that echoed the screenings.

Iván Pérez, an internationally award-winning choreographer, reimagined the tense, twisty movements of men at war beginning with the filmed training session presided over by a sadistic sergeant.  The men are made to run back and forth, tumbling, somersaulting, twirling in the air in response to the sergeant’s heated, over-the-top commands.

The film moves on to the battlefront where scenes in foxholes show the suffering of the soldiers including one who receives a Dear John letter and tries to commit suicide-by-enemy-fire, but is saved by a fellow soldier in a taut duet that is repeated live in front of the screen.  Even the most pleasant moments, such as a sunlit domestic scene of laundering clothing in a brook and cooking over an open fire turn into bitter battles and intramural fighting that result in near rape and death.

Artists of BalletBoyz in a scene from Iván Pérez’s “Young Men” (Photo credit: Jessie Coleman)

The war moments are bookended by scenes in an ancient church where two women, Elizabeth McGorian and Jennifer White portray a grieving mother and wife praying for their shared soldier.  The second part of this dramatic tableau closes the work when their beloved soldier returns, damaged almost beyond endurance.  Both scenes are heartbreakingly replicated live.  Watching the two women cope with the damaged soldier elicits emotions rarely felt in performances by dance companies.

Although Pérez’s movements are necessarily repetitive—lots of variations on falling, wrestling, crawling and flinging limbs—the men of the company (Joey Barton, Benjamin Knapper, Harry Price, Matthew Rees, Liam Riddick, Matthew Sandiford and Bradley Waller) are all totally committed to the emotions and psychology of the work in addition to performing the movements with expertise and dedication.  Often it was almost too difficult to watch these dancers who were risking injury in their ardor to communicate all the painful emotions of Young Men.

The two directors/founders of BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, directed and photographed the film which also included Pérez’s choreography.  Although the movie certainly illuminated the dark themes for a screen-crazy audience, it too often was a distraction when the dancers were performing in front of the screen, spread out across the Joyce stage.   Having to choose between the live and the filmed action became a problem even though both were of equal technical merit.

Artists of BalletBoyz in a scene from Iván Pérez’s “Young Men” (Photo credit: Jessie Coleman)

Katherine Watt’s costumes brilliantly recreated the period from the women’s voluminous outfits to the war-torn uniforms of the soldiers.

Andrew Ellis, the lighting designer, had the difficult task of illuminating the dancers while not fading out the moving images on the screen.  He succeeded brilliantly.

Keaton Henson’s score skillfully ranged from quiet background music to bombastic and booming full orchestra supporting the filmed and the live action handily.

BalletBoyz: Young Men (January 29 – February 3, 2019)

The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time:  one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (324 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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