Award-winning all-male company BalletBoyz make their Edinburgh Fringe debut with their latest work Them/Us, a double-bill in collaboration with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Josephine Balfour-Oatts reviews:

BalletBoyz‘s latest double bill of work Them/Us sees the award-winning troupe as choreographers for the first time.

BalletBoyz Them/Us Underbelly McEwan Hall
BalletBoyz presents Them/Us at Sadler’s Wells

Devised largely through improvisation, Them is set against a sizeable steel cube. Movements are organised within a spectrum of extremes. Stereotypically masculine gestures are countered by more traditional, feminine flourishes – a show of strength and vulnerability (though the two are not mutually exclusive).

Together, the BalletBoyz group of six wrap themselves around their metal frame, creating a series of optical illusions as the structure tips and turns over. Vignettes of partner work are at once held captive and set free, the knotting of limbs made to end just as soon as they begin. Instances involving the cube are most effective, with its capacity to shift the perspective onstage making for an intense, almost hypnotic experience. In combination with Keaton Henson’s score – a heady bass married with the shivering of strings – adrenaline rushes to the surface of the action.

BelletBoyz Them/Us Underbelly McEwan Hall
Image courtesy of George Piper

A sense of urgency is born out of the BalletBoyz’s flirtation with risk, heightened further by a sudden technical fault that causes the first half to conclude prematurely. Dry ice hugs the stage expectantly as the setting is dismantled, with any initial confusion settled by the sight of a metal beam having broken clean from its intersection. The troupe did well to erase the weight of disappointment that had built in their absence, performing the latter part, Us, with zeal. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the movement language proceeds, dressed up in long, grey shirts and charcoal trousers.

BalletBoyz Them/Us Underbelly McEwan Hall
BalletBoyz presents Them/Us at Sadler’s Wells

Us is curated with care, jumping between more abrupt actions and moments of stillness. It’s tender in parts – not so much romantic as suffused with a spirit kinship. And yet the brotherhood is tinged with melancholia, as if, in spite of this togetherness, the isolated dancer is impossibly lonely. Each performer shed their clothing like skin from a snake, and a solo by Benjamin Knapper works hard to shift the atmosphere from fearfulness to fearlessness.

However, as with before, group work tends to be more powerful in this production. Perhaps this is synonymous with the message – a Them/Us study of those individuals that make up the masses, of how a world gains strength when it is united as opposed to divided.

★★★★☆

BalletBoyz: Them/Us is now playing at Underbelly McEwan Hall until 15 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.