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George Piper Dances
by Julia Skene-Wenzel
June 8, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London
A modern tale of love, betrayal and revenge sparks a lot of public interest, so naturally the crowds turned out in force to witness George Piper Dances’ latest venture entitled “Naked.” Billed as a full-length narrative dance piece, a rather unusual label in the contemporary dance world which often stays clear of such description, it promised another departure in the artistic journey of Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, aka the “Ballet Boyz,” who have gone from strength to strength, since leaving the classical ballet scene. Their superb physical abilities and strong onstage chemistry paired with some of today’s hottest choreographers and female dancers have proven to be a recipe for success.
Twenty years on, they have raised the barre yet again by holding onto complete artistic control rather than commissioning a choreographer. Long-term collaborator Russell Maliphant offered guidance at early, explorative stages, from which all six dancers, including the fabulous Oxana Panchenko and ex-Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal Monica Zamora, developed their own material.
Supported by a team of strong collaborators, “Naked” eases into motion, as the stage reveals the stunning set design of Bob Crowley, an all-in-white, minimalist Japanese hotel room with one bed. It contained all that was to be revealed, its beauty flawed by alienation, anonymity and loneliness; the whiteness absorbing all emotion and sealing its secrets. Paule Constable’s lighting calms the aura, as it streams through the windows like the sunshine on a golden Sunday afternoon. Six dancers float on and off stage; girls in beautiful dresses and high heels, reminiscent of a 1960s cocktail hour with an air of Audrey Hepburn, a nonchalant elegance that drives its participants to various partners and formations. A sheer pleasure to watch, Act I indulges the audience in graceful dancing, but its characters are hard to grasp, and we are left to wonder who is with whom and where the betrayal actually happens.
There is a distinctive mood change as the stage opens for Act II; the room has turned black, and Michael Hulls’ lighting design moves from dusk to night. Secrets are no longer detained and multiple characters creep up the walls as Hugo Glendinning’s video projections watch and judge themselves and each other. The betrayal has taken place, and the wheel is in motion -- the perpetrators and victims need to resolve the issue. It certainly moves the production into another gear where the atmosphere heightens in intensity but the choreography however does not rise to the challenge. The Steps seem too one-dimensional, balletic and refined. There is no tangible expression of raw-edged passion, rage or guilt, which the rest of the mise en scene implies. Only the last sequence engages Nunn and Trevitt in a duet, which finally adds physicality, real touch and struggle to the piece and provides a glimpse of the Boyz’ real potential. The lighting cuts the action in mid-flow -- as one man is about to overpower the other, we are left us with an unresolved end and the richness of speculation.
There are only few choreographers who keep dancing in their own work and with good reason. Digital video equipment aids the choreographic process but a performer will always be subject to his/her own coloured judgment. Subjectivity is inescapable at all times, therefore, a good choreographer must have clarity and sharpness when editing sections and challenging dancers to lessen or increase intention and physicality. This was precisely what this production lacked. The choreography and dancers skimmed the surface of frozen potential. There was no depth in the subject matter, the choreography or the emotional intensity on stage.
Where to go from here requires a difficult choice. The Boyz are the commodity and assets of the company, which is built around the ‘dancers’ and not a choreographer; keeping them on stage will ultimately depend on outside choreographic assistance, a radical restructuring of their image. Thus, just like the piece, the company’s future presents itself with an unresolved end, many possibilities and endless speculation.
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