Posted on June 6, 2009
Ballet Boyz II: The Next Generation in Laws of Motion
Gene Kelly danced in the rain, and anyone proposing to dance in the open air in the UK should be prepared to do the same. However, a gentle downpour and a wet concrete surface following some hours of rain, prevented Ballet Boyz II from giving the early afternoon world premiere performance of their 15-minute piece Laws of Motion in Platt Fields Park, Manchester, as part of the “Feast – Picnic By The Lake” programme. The quartet of dancers also failed to appear in person to meet and greet the quintet of an audience waiting good-humouredly in the drizzle for something to happen.
Some performers did brave the elements as the day progressed and the skies lightened, including the musicians, traditional dancers, and the high-wire acrobat (balanced marvellously at the top of a vertical pole) of Kawa Circus. Their story of an Indian circus delighted an appreciative audience as they performed with panache (as many of the world’s performers still do) on grass – though on this occasion on the wettest of rain-soaked earth and grass.
The privilege of witnessing the first performance of Laws of Motion – relocated in the early evening to the stage of Manchester’s Contact Theatre – fell to the delegates of X.trax, the Manchester-based international showcase for outdoor work which, in partnership with Without Walls, the consortium of outdoor festivals, had commissioned outdoor pieces from seven groups including Ballet Boyz II. Laws of Motion has the four performers (Jo Darby, Zack Dennis, Kai Downham and Matthew Reece) in street clothes, set in motion by choreographer Kai Downham in collaboration with the original Balletboyz and performing to a soundtrack featuring silence as well as the visceral, indie, hip hop, and rap work of Doug Evans and Marc Mellits. The contact improvisation and classically based contemporary dance moves are deliberate and fluid – with the performers extending courtesy to each other as they lift and tumble. They sometimes add a touch of frenzy to their actions and interactions.
Contact improvisation (originally an American creation of the 1970s) began as a reaction to the prevailing mechanical or zero physical contact between dancers in some dance performances. American Moshe Feldenkrais and Pilates practitioner Ernie Adams describe contact improvisation as a “moving massage… that fine tunes your senses and wakes up your ability to listen and respond to what is happening in the moment. If you could do Aikido, surf, wrestle and dance at the same time, you would have an idea of what contact improvisation feels like… partners are often moving in and out of physical contact while rolling, spiraling, springing and falling. They find ways to ‘enjoy the ride’ and improvise while mutually supporting and following each others movements. The dancing is unpredictable and inspired by the physical and energetic contact the partners share.”
In contrast to this description, both the choreography and the performance of Laws of Motion looked careful rather than spontaneous. The contemporary moves have an air of the dance studio about them, while the contact improvisation moves lack the ebb and flow of discovery and look formulaic rather than fresh. On the evidence of this short work (though this is modest evidence) contact improvisation requires, and needs, to loosen up and get back to its roots.
Ballet Boyz II: The Next Generation tours Laws of Motion to the following venues this summer: Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, June 25-27; Winchester Hat Fair, Winchester, July 4; Dance Daze, Penrith (part of Lakes Alive), July 26; Stockton International Riverside Festival, Stockton-on-Tees, July 30–August 2; The Bristol Do, September 26-27
Ballet Boyz II in Laws of Motion. Photograph by Doug Southall