Yes! Men are alive and well in the world of dance. And they are here to stay. Finally. Gone are the notions that dance is just for girls, or for “girlie” boys. In are the demonstrations of sheer physicality, strength, agility, and dare I say it? Virility. Enter the British company BalletBoyz and their celebration of the male form and all that defines masculinity and what it means to be a man (both straight and gay). And boy oh boy are they MEN with a capital M. Watching the muscularity and fearlessness of the men who make up BalletBoyz, I am reminded of all that is different from the female form, and I am moved in an entirely different way. These dancers have a dynamic sensuality that remains very male yet plays and explores androgyny with a corporeality that becomes tactile on the stage. It takes your breath away. Really.
Royal Ballet principal dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt founded BalletBoyz in 2000 after walking away from stellar careers and in the process challenge every dance stereotype imaginable. These two straight men (grown up versions of Billy Elliot) set out to prove that men could dance with each other and create a beautiful aesthetic, that masculinity and dance walked hand in hand, and that classical technique could morph into contemporary and modern repertoire with ease. During their twelve years at The Royal Ballet, they danced all the male Principal roles including: Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Prince Siegfried (Swan Lake), Lescault and Des Grieux (Manon), Prince Charming (Cinderella), Florimund (Sleeping Beauty), Crown Prince Rudolph (Mayerling), and the King of the Sweets (Nutcracker). While at the Royal, they also created roles for such choreographic greats as Kenneth MacMillan, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe, David Bintley and Christopher Wheeldon. As BalletBoyz they wanted to stretch their classical and modern repertoire and work with film and video. They immediately became a phenomenon in the dance world: they were (and continue to be) hip, sexy, talented, and out to build a company that mirrored their ideas about men and dance.
BalletBoyz’s popularity has grown over the past thirteen years as they continue to be a dance sensation. Nunn and Trevitt did much of the dancing in the beginning, often having a female guest. They relied on favorites like Russsell Maliphant’s Broken Fall, danced with Sylvie Guilliem, and Torsion, a duet created for them, along with many others which highlighted their classical technique and contemporary attitude (Trio, Naked, Encore, and Electric Counterpoint). Trevitt and Nunn also choreographed and curated a number of video and documentary projects , including The Rough Guide to Choreography, the 4Dance season, Strictly Bolshoi (about Christopher Wheeldon), and Balletboyz: The Rite of Spring for BBC, in which they undertook a radical adaptation of Stravinsky’s masterpiece featuring pole dancers, b-boys, and an amateur tango team as well as professional dancers. Their appearances on TV and video documentaries has made their work accessible to all and led them to win numerous prizes and awards.
Presently, Trevitt and Nunn have moved away from performing and focus instead on teaching, directing and choreographing, shaping the next generation of male dancers. Some have taken to calling them the “BalletDadz” as they enter their forties and leave the stage, but don’t be fooled, there is plenty left in this dynamic duo. 2010 brought the introduction of The Talent, a groundbreaking project in which Nunn and Trevitt held open auditions and selected nine, mostly British male dancers from varied backgrounds (including a gymnast, a conservatory trained dancer, an almost-to-be Royal marine) to create a company of first-rate performers. These young men have a kind of physicality that reeks of maleness and youth, freedom and Eros unbound.
Although Trevitt and Nunn did not originally set out to put together an all male company, they have succeeded in doing so nonetheless. The masculinization of ballet is no small feat, but they have managed it. Their efforts at turning the focus of dance to men, and the male form, are reminiscent of the pioneering work of Ted Shawn at Jacob’s Pillow, and his all male company of athletes from Springfield College. To my knowledge, it was Shawn who first attempted to make dance a reputable profession for men by choreographing a new performance style and Nunn and Trevitt followed in his footsteps. In 2011 the introduction of the project BalletBoyz II became an open call to young men everywhere about the possibilities of dance for men and the athleticism and discipline involved in being a dancer. This time, with the help of video, film and TV, and social media the word spread fast: dancing is a masculine art form. BalletBoyz II highlights men in dance, making the most of such male characteristics as aggression, strength, and physicality with a pinch of recklessness thrown in. Whirling arms and wrestling moves, balance and strength, rippling torsos, leaps, lifts, heavy floor work, and a sense of shared play in their physicality are part of the irresistible nature of the BBII project. These men can spark up an audience like a roaring fire and are likely to be around for a long time.
Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, the original BalletBoyz have done much to broaden the audience for dance through the range of their repertoire, the caliber of the dancing and choreography, and their use of video, film and TV. Documentary film and video seems like an inherent part of their dancing – and through their cinematic lens, they have brought the personalities of their dancers, their sweat and tears, into the open and demystified dance in the process. More dance on TV and other media means more dance fans, and more dance fans means more dance. It means more opportunities for dancers and thanks to BalletBoyz, for male dancers in particular. As Gene Kelly said, “I think dancing is a man’s game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman.”
For what is a world of dance without men?