If, as the artist Grayson Perry suggests, masculinity really is in crisis, this dance spectacular is ringing the bell for change. Rabbit,by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg is the first half of the critically-acclaimed Balletboyz double bill Life. To Henryk Gorecki’s sublime, funereal, then thrilling Requiem fur Eine Polka, Bradley Waller emerges, full of angst.A strange, rabbit headed man joins him, until he is surrounded by others, who slide in from under curtains, all sporting the heads, and in Edwardian clothing. The ensemble are, variously, threatening, demented, louche and playful, scratching hind legs as though flea-ridden, moods shifting within the rich tones of the folk-inflected score.
Death of childhood is implicit with every movement- this is not the childhood of happy, carefree days painted in twee colours, but rather, the strange, disquieting narrative of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. Here is a muted colour palette of grey, tan and palest blue, sucked of reassuring sunshine. Waller’s reluctance to “put aside childish things” is represented by the saddest swing ever to appear on a stage. He swings, head down, in abject isolation, until scooped up by the others.
Heads are cast aside for the seeming uniformity of adulthood, as the ensemble tumble, hop, somersault in pairs, and pound the floor in displays of machismo and sweeping tenderness alike. Waller is integrated into the group dynamic, but not until he first spars with the others and proves his worth.It’s funny, beautiful and melancholic, as surreal as it is magical, with the outsider now finally accepted.
A very different beast is explored in legendary Venezualan choreographer Javier de Frutos’ provocative Fiction. It’s death, but not as we know it. The ensemble in t shirts and tracksuit bottoms, led by Marc Galvez as a sort-of de Frutos figure, rehearse at the barre, as sonorous voiceovers by Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi declare de Frutos dead, killed by a “rogue shard of plastic” from the scenery. Their voices split into shards and overlap, and the men react to the subsequent details from the obituary, which involves bickering, embracing, or being knocked over like dominoes.
A battle for supremacy becomes the dominant motif, as the men run, strut and throw aggressive shapes to the wonderful, jazzy score by Ben Foskett which was specially commissioned for the piece. The barre keeps shifting, not stable at the best of times, and the men form rippling human chains, or weave in and out of the barre in kaleidoscopic displays of limbs and heads, all at jarring angles.They even parody footballers struggling to score goals- the barre at times reminiscent of a goalpost.
Each has a chance to shine- held aloft by the others like gods- or seemingly crowdsurfing like rock stars- until only Galvez is left. As the cheeky mock- obituary suggests, the two strands of de Frutos’style- postmodern and populist- meld in a witty and robust way, which ends in a full-on, whirling disco boogie by Galvez. Here, it would appear, issues are nothing that can’t be worked through, and masculinity is in rude (or rather saucy) health.
Life is at Dundee Rep until 24th May,and continues across Britain throughout Summer.
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