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BalletBoyz' Michael Nunn on Life at Nottingham Playhouse

4 March 17 words: Mollie Stone

Life. Something every person can relate to, and an ingenious concept for a ballet production. Who could be more up to the challenge than the inimitable BalletBoyz; a dance company, comprised entirely of male dancers, that’s been breaking boundaries and shattering preconceptions since it was founded in the early noughties. We had a chat with co-founder, Michael Nunn, ahead of their European tour…

It was in 2001 that dancers Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt struck out as the BalletBoyz. Both had danced in the Royal Ballet, so their ability to run a ballet company of their own was never in question. Having performed as principles in many performances throughout their twelve years at the Royal Ballet, the two became good friends. One of the things that stood out the first time I saw the BalletBoyz perform was their strength and control. The way the company moves reveals a passion and commitment, and the artistic direction is innovative. What Michael and Billy have created with this dance company is something that demands a standing ovation.

Having retired from the stage in 2010, they’re both still hands-on with the company. We got the chance to speak to Michael as he was preparing to fly to Canada to meet and support the company in their final weeks of shows in the US. Both Michael and Billy are drowning in a dance-related frenzy, and have remained in the UK until now to ensure that everything on the European leg of the tour is in order. Life premiered in April 2016 and has since been touring the UK and the United States. Michael said that the show has been a “big hit in the US”, and that they are looking forward to bringing it home.

Life was a theme devised by both founders and is a show of two halves. The first of which was choreographed by Pontus Lidberg, who caught the eye of Michael and Billy during a dance film competition. ”We were interested in his style,” says Michael, his style being classical and very technically orientated. Pontus Lidberg has been creating art for the stage since 2000, so is more than qualified for the job. Michael explained that the first half of Life is much more serious, while the second has a more theatrical, humorous side.

One reason for the shift in tone is that the second half of the piece was choreographed by Javier de Frutos, a renowned choreographer with a multitude of awards in a variety of dance disciplines and styles. When asked which he preferred, Michael remained diplomatic and said that both halves were ”pretty poignant” and covered areas that allowed the dancers to connect with their characters. The dancers are all given a character to develop in the production of Life, and the opportunity to show their growth throughout the second half. Working with a completely male dance company may prove difficult for some choreographers, however Michael and Billy have selected two experts who are more than up to the task.

The company consists of ten dancers, one of whom has strong links to Nottingham. Bradley Waller is originally from Rotherham, but his first professional training was at the NECB School in Nottingham before going onto the Rambert School for Ballet and Contemporary Dance. It was in his third year there that he was invited by Michael and Billy to join the BalletBoyz. With such a small number in the company, it must be a great personal achievement to be selected and have the opportunity to learn from some of the best choreographers in the business. Alongside his dance, Bradley has created a photographic series called What Does Dance Mean to You, which takes place every fortnight on the BalletBoyz website, each time with a different individual describing what dance means to them. Bradley has recently included Javier de Frutos, who says, “Dance means to live with both a blessing and a curse. A blessing when your brain matches your body and a curse that the moment you understand it, it starts to go away.”

In an interview with The Wonderful World of Dance, talking about performing in Life, Bradley said that “It resorts back to [the question of] ‘What is the meaning of life?’ It’s such an interesting show that we’ve been working on.” Bradley and the rest of the cast are given the opportunity to bond with their characters, particularly in the second half. “It’s a really special moment”, said Michael when talking about the boys getting stuck into their roles.

I then spoke to Michael about their tour in the UK and, more importantly, their visit to Nottingham in March. “We’ve been to Nottingham before and the theatre is really nice.” The Nottingham date is also the first performance for the lads on British soil after returning from North America. After that, there will be a brief tour around some European venues before the boys return to the UK for more dates and the complete the tour on the 2 June in Germany.

Having only the briefest time to chat to Michael, I was dying to ask him what his proudest moment with the BalletBoyz was. He seemed slightly stunned by this question, and needed a moment to think. After sixteen years of working for a company you created, and with the successes that the BalletBoyz have seen during this time, it’s no surprise it took a moment to pinpoint one moment that tops the rest. “I think it would actually be the film we made recently, Young Men.”

Alongside the tour of Life, the BalletBoyz have released a full-length feature that is showing in cinemas across the UK. He places pride in it because it was ”tremendously difficult” to produce and took real commitment from the dancers. The film is based on the theme of war and was filmed in Northern France. Young Men has been described as ”intensely moving” and draws inspiration from images of conflict over the ages. The piece is choreographed by Iván Pérez, who formerly danced with the Nederland Dance Theater. The film first aired to open the Sadler’s Wells 2015 programme and is still being played across the UK for the duration of the Life tour.

After speaking with Michael, my anticipation for watching Life has increased ten fold. It seems to be a very different take on ballet, with two half-hour performances that could stand alone. As always with the BalletBoyz, it’s certain that their latest production will be a dazzling display of balletic talent and choreographically mind-blowing.

BalletBoyz: Life, Nottingham Playhouse, Monday 6 March, £13 - £21.

BalletBoyz website

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