Classical ballet is all about showcasing the ladies, with male dancers often acting as courtly partners to the ballerinas and taking a backseat, aside from a solo here and there. But BalletBoyz, coming to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Saturday, is something entirely different. This U.K.-based company has gotten lots of attention for its innovative all-male makeup since its founding in 2001 by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt.
After nearly a decade of success with BalletBoyz, they reenergized the company’s dynamic by selecting and training a corps of 10 young male dancers they call the TALENT, who won the U.K.’s prestigious Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards earlier this year for Best Independent Company.
“We had danced for 12 years with The Royal Ballet and then with our own company, and we could feel that we were approaching our ‘best before’ date,” Nunn and Trevitt said. “But in 2009, we saw a group of young male dancers and were inspired by their enthusiasm, their hunger, and their lack of fear. It seemed possible that if we could channel all of that raw potential and combine it with top-class choreography, we might have something very fresh and exciting.”
Those of us who are accustomed to traditional, female-predominant dance companies might wonder — is it different working with all men?
“In terms of the work dynamic, there is still simply a determination to make the work as good as it can be,” they said. “They are extremely driven and professional, and I don’t think that has to do with gender.”
Nunn and Trevitt enjoy working with guest choreographers, and BalletBoyz incorporates partnerships with acclaimed composers, artists, designers, filmmakers, and photographers.
“It has always been our aim to involve ourselves and the dancers in as many new collaborations as possible and to make an evening with us as varied as it can be,” they explained.
Saturday’s program opens with “Serpent,” Liam Scarlett’s first commission for BalletBoyz and his first use of contemporary dancers, with an original score by acclaimed U.K. composer Max Richter. The evening closes with “Fallen” by Russell Maliphant, with a score by French cinema composer Armand Amar.
Much of ballet and modern dance has very serious overtones, but there is also a movement by some companies to incorporate humor and lightness into their work. BalletBoyz falls somewhere in between.
“The choreography is serious, and we take our work very seriously,” they said. “But we have always frowned upon the branch of contemporary dance that takes itself too seriously, often leading to performances that feel like the dancers were the only ones to get the meaning or any satisfaction out of it. We never want to be one of those companies where you feel like you’ve just had to take some medicine. We want to entertain!”
As for how they select their dancers, Nunn and Trevitt seek out stars — dancers that will light up the stage in a way that often supersedes talent or training.
“Of course, technique, skill, and physicality are very important,” they said, “but what we are usually looking for is that certain something that means that you can’t take your eyes off a particular dancer, some kind of irresistible charisma. A combination of those attributes is very rare, but obviously we have found all 10 of them!”
Nunn and Trevitt both live in West London with their families. Ambassadors for Prince Charles’s charity Children and the Arts, they were made officers of the British Empire in 2012 for their services to dance.
“Of course, we hope audiences will love the Boyz,” they said, “but we also like to think that they will appreciate seeing choreography that is new and exciting. It would be great if they would look us up online and check out some of the films that we have made with the company and tell all of their friends.”
BalletBoyz comes to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Saturday, November 1, at 2 and 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info. A documentary about the company, BalletBoyz: Next Generation airs on PBS SoCal on Thursday, October 30 at 10 p.m. See your cable provider for listings.