The opening performance of Sadler’s Wells 2015 programme, Young Men fuses dance, theatre and visual elements to create an incredibly moving portrayal of the horrors of war. Rather than telling the story of specific characters and exploring the effects their experiences of war have on them, BalletBoyz made the decision to create a much looser show, without any designated characters or clear narrative. The action flicks from boot camp to imprisonment to homecoming to battle in the trenches, defying our expectations of a conventional war story and instead offering us glimpses into the prominent issues in a soldier’s life, both during and after wartime. The lack of any characters means that each man is at the same time nobody and everybody: we are given nothing to distinguish between the dancers as they change between roles, and see them as the nothing more than the faceless statistics of war; at the same time, these men represent individuals, their blankness allowing them to embody every single soldier in every single war.
Although the show lacks any kind of coherent narrative, skipping from one aspect of war to another, which sometimes makes it difficult to follow, this piece is intended to be an exploration of the theme of war, rather than a clear-cut story, and for the most part, it works. This show is also highly effective at bringing home to us the co-dependence, both physical and emotional, of soldiers in wartime: as the dancers work together to execute the choreography, so the soldiers they represent work together to help one another, whether in boot camp or the trenches, and their physical interactions, such as helping a comrade up or using their bodies to shield one another, in their turn represent the emotional dependency that soldiers must develop in order to stay sane in the darkest of times.
The minimalist set, which consisted mainly of projections onto the floor to create a variety of locations, worked well, furthering the idea that these men are at once no-one and everyone, nowhere and everywhere. Keaton Henson’s score was a definite highlight, at times providing emotional depth, at others, a sense of foreboding, as the noises of battle slowly became audible over the orchestra. Perez’s choreography fluctuated between minimal and highly intricate, and often involved different things happening simultaneously, emphasising the overwhelming chaos of war. The dancers were clearly invested in the performance, all aiming to give emotional depth to their different roles, and executed the choreography seamlessly throughout.
Despite the overall success of this production, there were certainly weaker moments: the lack of any designated characters, combined with the fragmented narrative, meant that the show was often difficult to follow, especially at the beginning of a new scene. Although the premise of the show seemed to be the universality of each man, there were some moments which would have benefitted from a deeper sense of character, allowing the performers to explore the soldiers’ personal development or their relationships more profoundly. Produced in association with 14-18 NOW, WWI Centenary Art commissions, this was overall a successful attempt at exploring the different facets of war, as well as an excellent season opener for Sadler’s Wells.