With English National Ballet’s superb new works commemorating World War One so fresh in the memory it was impossible not to compare them to the BalletBoyz – Young Men, first seen as Sadler’s Wells earlier in the year. Choreographer, Ivan Perez, tells a series of emotive mini stories that hang together to tell the stories of a group of young men on the front line. We see them train, fall, get hurt, fight and more – it’s a vivid and raw portrayal that creates some original moments. However, at times the storytelling feels a little laboured and the point is hammered home so brutally it’s too difficult a watch.
It’s worth noting here how much the live orchestra really lifts this work. The tension is built skilfully through the heavy strings and repeated piano motifs as the individual character’s stories are told. The inclusion of two female dancers gives an unexpected dynamic and the troubled relationships and painful separations really come to life.
The military training scenes were more repetitive and flat. The exhausting physicality of jumping, running, diving and falling soon loses its impact and adds little to the full story as the audience quickly understands the day to day brutality so there is nothing more to be said. Attempts at individual characterisation are made as one soldier is seen to be struggling with the tough regime but the ‘Training of a Soldier’ scene already feels too long for the audience too be truly engaged with the turmoil.
The choreographer’s attention next moves to shell shock. We see a young man dressed only in underwear, trembling, his face and body both contorted and he is unable to stand without assistance. It’s another scene that feels too long unless the audience is deliberately meant to feel uncomfortable. Eventually, he is forced back into his army uniform, each limb forcefully dressed up until he resembles any other of his comrades although it is obvious to the audience he is mentally broken.
The above both demonstrate the lack of story to go around here, and what story is told certainly doesn’t break the mould. However, despite these criticisms the denoument is still dramatic and touching. ‘Battlefield Landscape’ sees a mound of dust fall to the stage and recreates a battle on the front line; the strings from the orchestra build impressively as the young men fall again and again – they are just faceless silhouettes, their flailing arms and legs creating a cloud of dust above the stage. The piece ends with ‘Homecoming’, where a soldier returns to his two lovers but now instead of fighting over him, as seen previously, they can now vividly see the mental trauma he has under taken and attempt to work together to comfort him. It’s a raw, moving end that leaves some sobering imagery lingering in the mind as one leaves the theatre. Perez certainly knows how to leave an audience bereft, the main body of the story and its telling now just needs a little more attention.
First published on LondonTheatre1.com