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George Piper Dances/Ballet Boyz

‘Steptext,’ ‘Mesmerics,’ ‘Torsion’

by Dani Crawford

October 21, 2003 – Lisner Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

If George Piper Dances had any concerns about how they might play to American audiences, those surely dissipated no more than three cities into their tour. With reviews that have extolled their every virtue, there should be no doubt left in anyone's mind.

I myself can personally vouch for their Washington, D.C. premiere. Of course, having been a fan and supporter of GPD for some time now, I already had no doubt how they would play to American audiences.

I am a dreadful reviewer of dance. I’m still too much a novice to tell you the fine points in technical terms. So I can only be broad and emotional and often sound goofy. But some performers and performances are so outstanding I feel it worthwhile making a fool out of myself.

That said, GPD is small but mighty: Michael Nunn, Billy Trevitt, Oxana Panchenko, Monica Zamora and Hubert Essakow packed a punch at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium Tuesday night. Starting with Forsythe’s "Steptext," some in the audience may have been caught off guard when Hubert entered and began what seemed a very simple elaboration of movements with lights still on in the auditorium and no music.

But, as each dancer entered, and the lights dimmed, and more bits of the sharp, almost harsh pulls of the violin accentuated each movement, you could almost feel the audience willingly pulled into a very different dance experience. "Steptext" seemed to run the gamut from A to Z in both emotion and movement. This is only the second Forsythe piece I’ve seen ("In the Middle Somewhat Elevated" being the other) and I am left wanting more. I find his choreography not only intriguing, but a mental and emotional challenge.

Christopher Wheeldon’s "Mesmerics" was next and it was a wonderful contrast to the very punctuated and sometimes disquieting manner of "Steptext." "Mesmerics"' fluid coupling and willowy melding of bodies seemed almost sensual. The music, by Philip Glass, at times lent a haunting feel to the movements and at other times it was a much more dreamlike mood. This piece was so smoothly and seamlessly danced by all in the company that indeed one did feel they’d been entranced.

"Torsion," a work devised on Michael and Billy by Russell Maliphant, is nothing short of a brilliant study of balance, strength, texture, intimacy, trust and testosterone. With Richard English’s sort of urban, underground soundtrack running, you feel your own heartbeat accelerate as the music gets a little louder and the movements more pronounced -- edgier and yet completely controlled, almost with a brutish arrogance. Michael and Billy have danced this piece many times and it fits them like a glove.

There is an intimate feel to the ease at which they compliment and contrast each other in this powerful work. The choreography is magnificent with the male body entwined, molded, elevated, wielded, contorted, subjugated, and redeemed in a short space of 25 minutes. I don’t know why, but the movement that struck me most was Michael holding Billy horizontal at his hip with Billy's feet pointed sharply at the audience, very slowly, but with an almost pure intensity in his body and face, Michael brings him around across the audience. For some reason I was struck with the image of a soldier on patrol leveling an M16. I'm sure that sounds bizarre in a dance context and obviously I’ve no idea what was behind the intention of that movement (if there even is one) but I found myself completely captivated by it. Well, completely capitvated by the entire work.

At the intervals, the Boyz now famous video travelogues were shown. These films are partly to introduce the choreographer and his work, partly to show that it ain’t easy learning some of that choreography, partly to give a glimpse of a dancer’s life, and partly Monty Pythonesque silliness – boyz being boyz. To say these clips were a huge hit with the audience doesn’t begin to tell that tale. It is easy to see why over 2 million people in the UK tuned into the first two Ballet Boyz documentaries. These films alone would be enough to convince the non-dance goer they are missing out on something very special. Indeed that is exactly what Michael and Billy intended.

I’ve no idea what most of the audience was personally thinking at Lisner when the last work was completed and several curtain calls were required. But whatever it was, they were thinking it out loud in roars, whistles, boisterous cheers and an immediate rousing standing ovation.

Will America love the Ballet Boyz as much as the UK does? Get the adoption papers ready.

Edited by Jeff.

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