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.
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.
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