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Deluxe

by on 19 April 2022

Circadian Rhythms

Deluxe

Ripple

by Xie Xin with music by Jiang Shaofeng

Bradley 4:18 

by Maxine Doyle with music by Cassie Kinoshi

The BalletBoyz, at Richmond Theatre, until 19th April, then on tour until 19th May

Review by Patrick Shorrock

How much is life back to normal after the easing of restrictions is a particularly acute question for theatres and touring companies.  From the audience’s perspective, in many ways, it feels like it really is with no more than an eighth of the audience now wearing masks, on this Easter Bank Holiday Monday.  A large, but not completely packed, house enthusiastically applauds BalletBoyz’s show Deluxe and is clearly glad to see the Boyz back in business. 

But there are some reminders that it may not be quite as easy for the performers.  For this is not so much a new show as the resuming of a tour that was abruptly cut short by lockdown in 2020.  The programmes printed for the 2020 tour are being sensibly reused – but with an updated cast list – which is good for the carbon footprint. 

Each of the two items is preceded by a short information film that includes interviews with the choreographer and cast.  We see that these two very different pieces are both based on the potentially tense dynamic of a female choreographer working with an all-male dance group.  We are discreetly reminded that some of these performers had not been on the 2020 tour or involved in the original creative process.  The films also provide evidence that dancers are often better at communicating through movement rather than words, and that watching a filmed performance really isn’t the same as encountering it live. 

The first item, Ripple – by Shanghai-based dancer and choreographer Xie Xin – seems to be about turning dancers into human water.  At its best, their bodies appear to shimmer, absorbing or reflecting energy from one to another, to mesmerising effect, although there are also times when the piece treads water.  It is beautifully fluid, and a remarkable demonstration of how the human body can take on the qualities of very different elements.  But it is all rather aimless and lacking in dramatic energy.  It feels remorselessly abstract, and a bit too long, not entirely helped by Jiang Shaofeng’s meandering string music.  Interestingly Xie Xin, when interviewed in the film, doesn’t seem entirely happy with it either, for all its occasional moments of transcendence.

Maxine Doyle’s Bradley 4:18 – inspired by a poem by Kae Tempest – is a complete contrast.  Bradley – played by six identically costumed dancers – is up and sleepless at 4.18 am.  The piece depicts the mental breakdown of an insomniac and covers similar territory to Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis – although it starts half an hour earlier!  It has a strong pre-pandemic feel to it, as Bradley’s six manifestations are all wearing the same blue office suit and pink shirt.  I suspect that during lockdown, he would have been wearing something more casual, but less dramatically resonant.  Cassie Kinoshi’s bluesey music well expresses the angst of a city unable to sleep.  We see Bradley depressed, conflicted, angry, preening, frustrated, and sorry for himself.  Sometimes there is a single Bradley; sometimes several.  They fight with each other, jump in the air and shout (they might be fragments of Tempest’s text, but they are pretty inaudible).  The moves are often jerky and angular, sometimes freezing into the rictus of a tortured figure in a Francis Bacon painting.  There is a whiff of sour testosterone.  It gets more tense.  And then suddenly it’s over, and leaves the audience feeling a bit flat.  Even if it didn’t actually get anywhere, it was fascinating experience. 

Patrick Shorrock, April 2022

Photography by George Piper

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