Venturing far from their UK home, BalletBoyz presented The Talent to Portland Tuesday night at the beloved Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Upon hearing their name, I found myself struck with this phantom nostalgia that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It may have been the curious “z” in “boyz” begging my attention until I couldn’t help but shroud boy band imagery–some eager late 90’s film–over my inexperience with men’s ballet. Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt debuted The Talent in 2010. The production and the newly formed “boyz” were embraced wholly by their audience. They continued on to other projects, including the filming of their documentary BalletBoyz: The Next Generation.
As the curtain draws, pieces (I imagine born of said documentary) vibrate through the screen in a sharp, black and white contrast. This sets the show off in a collective mindset that leaves a residue of open-ended perspective.
“Serpent” draws us to the transitioning indigo backdrop which features the soft, stationary outlines of immediately genderless figures. This, coupled with the modest white noise of falling rain, resonates an urgent sense of home within me. I reminisce about Michigan thunderstorms and the eternal spell they cast on me. The storms are one of the many talismans that I still find myself pining for now 2,000 miles from home.
As the figures ripple together in one hypnotic wave, we are asked to experience a similar majesty. The intensity of the score picks up now, wildly propelling the dancers. Liam Scarlett exposes interpretive dance notions in this choreography that I gladly find contrary to my novice expectations of ballet.
Couples begin to slither around their partners. At this point I don’t even imagine their bodies touching, after all there is barely any sign or sound of collision. Instead, I imagine an invisible energy force magnetizing each pair, keeping them entranced by their own revolution.
The hue of the stage brightens and we see more detail in the male figure. The costume here is a nude pant carefully tailored to project muscle definition while still disguising the lower half. The pale blue and orange shades play on their bodies geometrically, highlighting masculine features. They speak to the audience now as living statues, as technicolor roman gods.
The rippled waters from before transform into what feels like sprawling desert sand. I can almost hear the wind shaping the men into position and I now see our serpent clearly their linked bodies. My focus is then directed to the visible quarrel of the couple in juxtaposition.
I envision the struggle between mind and body. Mind symbolizing the aggressor bends Body to it’s whim. We spend so much of our day fueling our insatiable autopilot. It is only when we are truly present in each moment that we allow ourselves to utilize these forces to their best ability. Without a sense of presence, one element will always tire sooner than the other. It is together that they create a unique energy, willing to propel us forward to uncharted personal territories.
As “Fallen” begins I feel grateful for the previous intermission. The two pieces could not possibly have led into one another, nor did they need to.
Dusty greens, browns and black tones camouflage the men dressed now in army attire. Bodies quickly position themselves in group revolution, creating a human machine to which they feed other cog-like bodies.
The choreography is much more gender-forward. Russell Maliphant has no reservations about exhibiting the ferocity that he knows resides within each of his dancers. I feel the visibility of overall bodily strength is lessened here because of the intense togetherness we saw in “Serpent”. I almost find more strength in the fluidity and less mechanic movements of the first half.
The sound we hear is now more combative, more abrasive and serious. This is much like the build-up I’ve experienced while listening to Glassworks by Phillip Glass. I wonder if composer Armand Amar finds himself even slightly influenced by Glass, but I digress.
The stage clears and one man journeys alone through foggy spotlighting as the music seems to represent solitude. It’s post-apocalyptic really. I imagine the man now lonesome in his once vibrant street.
Finally his comrades join him in the rubble. Judgment dwells within me as I read into the stereotypes of masculinity. They begin to raise one soldier at a time for to us to examine, whispering to me of the standards we attempt to escape in our society. Although I don’t hold Maliphant responsible in the least for the conclusion I draw, to me this image is a representation of prevalent invulnerability.
It is too sudden to me when the lights dim. In my head I’ve only just taken a seat. This 90-minute production seemed only to take up seconds of my time never leaving me an opportunity to bore or become disinterested (even with my notably short attention span and haunting To-Do List).
This show set a high bar for the next ballet that I attend. Not knowing what to expect initially led me to now revel in a shell-shocked state of which I’m deeply grateful for. I am fortunate to have gone in with a clean slate and little expectation for the performance–well, almost.
I circle back to my first thought when the BalletBoyz were introduced to me as a concept for a night out. I’m washing my face for bed when naturally out of my mouth for the first time in years flow the words to N’Sync’s “Tearing Up My Heart”, and I smile, shaking my head.