The premise of this programme is, on the surface, creation and the creative process. Four renowned choreographers were given fourteen days and a specially commissioned score to create a work for the company dancers, on the theme of balance. The resulting pieces would be performed together in one evening.

<i>Fallen</i> © Panayiotis Sinnos (2013)
Fallen
© Panayiotis Sinnos (2013)

I read the programme, I understood the idea. But although I saw variations on the theme of balance and interesting glimpses into the unique creative gifts of the eight creators, an entirely different theme of the programme suggested itself to me as the evening went on. 

Javier De Frutos’ mischievously named The Title is in the Text opened the evening, taking the idea of balance literally with a thrilling see-saw constructed on the stage for the dancers to swing, lift and jump off. Filled with charged tableau and momentary glimpses of something complex at work underneath the near constant momentum of the see-saw, Scott Walker’s music and words added another layer of complexity that I was not always sure resolved itself. 

But it was with the second piece, Human Animals by Ivan Pérez that my theme began to emerge. Dancers in floral shirts and bare legs filled the stage to Joby Talbot’s rhythmically driving music and trotted around like show ponies in an area. The choreography placed an emphasis on the lower legs and feet in a way that is rare for an all male ensemble, and it was then I had my epiphany. Of course! It’s a programme about masculinity. Yes, balance; yes, fourteen days to create, but as the male dancers paraded in a vaguely comical way I suddenly realised I was actually watching a treatise on maleness and its different and even competing aspects. If Javier de Frutos’ work was about brotherhood, competition and perhaps the relentlessness of physical labour, then Human Animals spoke of the male as a strutting dandy with the flair of a peacock, building to a climax which was more reminiscent of a pack of wild autumnal stags.

Like a scientist in a laboratory, I waited for the curtain to come up on Christopher Wheeldon’s offering, Us, to test out my theory. With gorgeous, sweeping music by Keaton Hendon this duet was unexpectedly moving, the two dancers revealing something very universal about everything one wants to say and can’t. Here was the tenderness and soft emotion of masculinity, tentatively hidden and secret. 

The fourth piece, The Indicator Line, by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood with music by Charlotte Harding, the only female creator of the evening, dealt explicitly with violence. The dancers simulated fierce ritual combat, but their clogs and the pink shirts and braces suggested more Broadway theatricality or the stylised drama of a paso doble than a fully realised narrative of war. 

After the interval, the company presented Fallen by Russell Maliphant, which was perhaps unsurprisingly the most fully realised piece of the evening. I felt all the jumbled thoughts I had been having about representations of masculinity and male dancing came together in a meld of lifts, balances and falls which was austere and stern, yet abstract. 

‘Ballet is woman’ said Balanchine, which I have always felt says more about his own aesthetic than a whole art form. But on the evidence of this company of dancers, I would revise that aphorism to the rather less catchy, ‘dance is human.’ The triumph of this programme is really the dancers, who proved to be some of the most sensitive and thoughtful dance artists I have ever seen. When I look up at the shapes within the proscenium, I always want to see people dancing, real flesh-and-blood humans, not dancers who might also be humans if you squint a bit. The aesthetic of these dancers and all of the pieces on this programme might be summed up that way; men dancing, in a way that any one of us might manage too.

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