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Ballet Boyz: Them/Us review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘rare, precious dance’

BalletBoyz open their two-part new work with Them at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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BalletBoyz’ short but riveting evening of new work begins with Them, a 30-minute piece devised via collective improvisation sessions in collaboration with composer Charlotte Harding. It’s an intriguingly egalitarian prospect that pays off – even if it feels a little meandering at times, the author-free aimlessness is far outweighed by the dancers’ compelling prowess, their disparate energies and unified attack.

Clad in brightly-coloured shellsuits, this group of six have the appearance of an early 90s gymnastics team on the loose or a gang of athletic but inscrutable hipsters, whose territory comprises a giant but portable rectangular structure. Subtle dramas of complicity and opposition occur at its edges – angular dances of macho greeting and tactile rejection, or spry cat-like ascension to its highest vantage point. Harding’s string score, combining propulsive pizzicato passages with shrill, nervy shudders and grinding bass, conjures a suitably enigmatic soundworld.

Christopher Wheeldon’s reworking of the remarkable 2017 duet Us, created in two weeks for the company’s Fourteen Days programme, provides a choreographic prelude for the ensemble. Set against Keaton Henson’s churning cello and urgent bariolage (reminiscent of Arvo Part), the dancers modulate through tightly-patterned, tensely regimented twitchiness into surging aerial bursts and Matisse-style chains.

Sartorial layers and figures are shed, culminating in that extraordinary pas de deux. It’s a piece of exquisite physical joinery and emotional potency. Amid its enfolding lines, climactic extensions and lifts are moments of real tenderness and erotic charge, like the gentle interiority and intimacy of the couple’s touching wrists. This is a rare, precious dance.

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Frequently superb choreographic studies of self and other, performed with aplomb