BALLETBOYZ England on Fire, 3 Stars

BALLETBOYZ, England on Fire
Sadlers Wells
8th to 11th Nov 2023

“BalletBoyz collaborate with over forty artists in the company’s most ambitious, audacious, and political creation to date.

With stunning visuals and live music from folk to punk and everything in-between, England on Fire unites a kaleidoscopic group of the UK’s hottest talent.

Under the distinctive BalletBoyz banner, choreographer Holly Blakey, choreographer and performer Edd Arnold, dance, mime, theatre and drag company Thick & Tight, multi award-winner Russell Maliphant, choreographer and performer Vidya Patel, Stopgap Dance co-Artistic Director Lucy Bennett join forces with theatre director Ola Ince and choreographer Shelley Maxwell to create a live experience like no other.

With performances by singer-songwriter Kami Thompson and post-punk band Gag Salon, the extraordinary soundscape also features new creations from Charlotte Harding, Cassie Kinoshi, Mukul, Keaton Henson, Joe Zeitlin, and Gwilym Gold.

Inspired by the mind-blowing book England on Fire by Stephen Ellcock and Mat Osman, this is a search for meaning amid the challenges of life in the modern and ancient worlds. Don’t miss this fleeting chance to experience a world created by these unique artists in a bold and explosive series of just four performances.”

Review by Richard Lambert, 3 Stars

BALLETBOYZ are back with their most ambitious production to date. Featuring a lot of lights, video, a full surround sound system, 40 creatives, a live orchestra, a pop band, live singers…..what more could you add? Not only is this the premiere of a new dance piece in the UK’s premier dance theatre but they also bravely invited the Press to this first ever public performance.

With the stage stripped back and up to the walls, the lighting bars pulled up high and minimal side-masking, it is immense!

But, if you think it’s “Ballet” and “Boyz” you’d be way off track. The Company Title is no longer pertinent (except that it was originated by two “ballet boys”, Nunn amd Trevitt, who started the company and are now the Company Artistic Directors), the show image is a shirtless male dancer but no such dance or costume occurs in the piece. Is the marketing ahead of the production and riding in on a wave of optimism?

Put 40 creatives in a room, but just a few at a time with the dancers, and leave them to it without too much guidance. You might end up with a brilliant amount of creativity and originality. Or you could end up with a mish-mash of ideas, repetition, and arty-wank. Well, you get both here. There are genius sections where the dancers show unison and energy and display exciting movements. Sadly though the majority of the show is rather static and downright boring.

Many of the dance pieces do not need trained dancers to perform. With enough rehearsal time, many professional performers could achieve, certainly not all, but a lot of the choreographic requirements of the show. That is a bit of a problem for a dance company if the dancers aren’t asked to impress with their dedicated skills and talents.

The costumes, inspired from the book of the same name, are all rather dark and when set against a black box and dark set design tend to make everything feel dark and moody with little change of pace. The most interesting department of the show was the lighting (Andrew Ellis) which created dimensions and shapes and more dynamism than a lot of the choreography.

The overall story of “England being in a bit of a mess” is reflected in the construction of this show. With flying elements coming in and out of view to obscure and reveal the musicians felt like the design team struggling to come up with something interesting to do rather than for cohesive justification.

The orchestra and the music is just wonderful and the lighting has some stunning looks that could have come from a painter who’d taken months to complete. The sound is brilliant and immersive for the orchestra and soundscape but doesn’t work for the narrator who is often drowned out and rather monotonal.

This is such a huge production but I can’t say it’s my favourite BalletBoyz piece. It’s staggering how many people and how much work must have gone into putting together a show for only 4 day’s of performances. Arts Council funded of course. Clarity of story and superb choreography would save this show – it will be interesting to see if BALLETBOYZ take it back to the drawing board and come back with a hit, continue with this production as is, or bury it.

Photo credit: Thomas Bradshaw