London-Based BalletBoyz Kick Off U.S. Tour With Boston Debut
The plan was a short-term project, an experiment more than anything else, Michael Nunn explained.
In 2001, he and William Trevitt, former Royal Ballet dancers, co-founded BalletBoyz. Years later, with their retirement looming, they decided to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of Boyz, envisioning a resurrection of Ted Shawn’s pioneering all-male dance company, Nunn said.
The London-based BalletBoyz have toured the world, commissioned over 30 original choreographic works and created 50 arts-related films last year alone. Needless to say, their short-term project, a program aptly named The Talent, has been anything but short.
And with a feature film set to premiere later this year, the Boyz have only begun to break the stereotypes of inaccessibility and gender often associated with dance.
To kick off their latest North American tour, the company’s 10 male dancers will make their Boston debut this weekend (Friday, Jan. 29 and Saturday, Jan. 30) at the Citi Shubert Theatre as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, performing Christopher Wheeldon’s “Mesmerics” and Alexander Whitley’s “Murmuring.”
“It’s a very mixed evening,” Nunn said in a Skype interview. Both Wheeldon and Whitley trained at the Royal Ballet School — what Nunn described as the link between the choreographers -- but their works are very different.
“Mesmerics,” a balletic piece set to a Philip Glass score, poses one of the greatest challenges for the Boyz, Nunn explained. “With classical dance, with this piece in particular,” he said, “it has to be extremely synchronized and accurate.”
Nunn understands the challenge firsthand, as he was a member of the original cast, along with Trevitt and Oxana Panchenko. “It was one of the first commissions we made as a company,” he said of the work’s significance. Originally choreographed as a trio, Wheeldon has reworked it to accompany a cast of eight men.
“Murmuring,” on the other hand, is contemporary, dark and perhaps slightly intimidating for the audience, according to dancer Edward Pearce. “The music gets quite loud at one point, and it’s really pumping,” he said.
Inspired by the murmurations of starlings, Whitley focused his choreographic process on what transpires when striving to achieve physical impossibilities — “things that can’t be done with the body, but what that makes your body do in the attempt to do it,” Pearce said. “It feels, at the end of the day, like an intellectual workout as much as a physical workout.”
Hailing from a small farming community in Somerset, England, Pearce remembers dancing around the living room as a kid when his mother would play Madonna’s hit album “The Immaculate Collection.” He pursued the career ever since.
It was a week before he graduated from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in 2010 that he found an audition notice online for BalletBoyz. “It was kind of my last hope,” he said. “I went to an audition of 400 people, and I got selected down to four, and it was the best day of my life.”
Now in his sixth season, Pearce also serves as one of the directors of the company’s educational outreach program. “Everywhere we go on tour, we really like to go in schools in that area,” he said. “So, it’s not all about coming to London to do a workshop with us.”
On Friday morning, students of The Boston Conservatory Dance Division will have the opportunity to learn parts of the show from the dancers themselves, a masterclass that is open for the public to view. “Our idea is that we do the workshop first, and then they come and see the show, so it really inspires them,” Pearce said.
Teaching is not the only way the Boyz are making dance more accessible. They have reached a wide audience through their film work, which developed out of Nunn and Trevitt’s shared interest in photography that they discovered as 16-year-old students at the Royal Ballet School.
“We started expanding into sort of a 50 percent production company, 50 percent dance company,” Nunn said, and they have been successful in both ventures. In 2008, their film “Strictly Bolshoi” won the International Emmy for Arts Programming and the prestigious Rose d’Or for best arts documentary. Nunn and Trevitt have appeared as guest judges on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and they hosted Ovation’s reality dance series “A Chance to Dance.” More recently, the BalletBoyz were named the Best Independent Dance Company at the 2013 U.K. Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards.
Molding both of their passions into every performance, Nunn and Trevitt create short video introductions for each piece, giving the audience a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the typically closed off choreographic process. It’s another barrier broken — sharing the dancers’ learning environment with the world.
“The company is unique,” Nunn said. “They work together like a small army, and that’s their strength, and it’s extremely powerful. For these guys, and for us, every chance to perform is a real opportunity. It’s something quite special.”
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, a recent graduate of Boston University, is a freelance photojournalist in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to attending college, she was a professional ballet dancer with Tulsa Ballet. Her work may be viewed at lawrenceknoxphotography.com. She may be contacted at email@example.com.