Now BalletBoyz Artistic Directors Michael Nunn and Wiliam Trevitt have created a hybrid version, combining sequences from the film, which was shot on location on the killing fields of Flanders, and live stage performances.
The result is mixed. Where the combination works, it works spectacularly well and achieves profound emotional impact; but it doesn’t always work, and part 2 is particularly disjointed.
Young Men chronicles the experiences of the soldiers sent to fight in WWI, and portrays the desolation and hopelessness of the trenches and the senseless carnage of the war. It is danced on an intensely dramatic score composed by the singer songwriter Keaton Henson, and performed live at Wilton’s Music Hall by Jeremy Young on piano and Reinoud Ford on cello. The plangent chords of the cello bring particular poignancy to the most harrowing scenes.
The technique chosen for this version is to transition seamlessly between a filmed scene projected onto the backdrop and its development by dancers on a stage split into two levels.
It starts with a film of two women sitting in a small church; its bare stone walls and stripped simplicity are a moving metaphor for the loneliness of the women left behind.
And then the older woman (the Royal Ballet’s Elizabeth McGorian) is standing on the lower level of the stage. Behind her, the dancers are now live, young men in uniform enacting a desperate and chaotic battle scene, where the survivors try to help their fallen comrades, as they, too, are felled. It seems clear the scene portrays the imaginings of a bereft mother, McGorian’s choreography centred on arms repeatedly creating an empty cradle.
The stage is gloomily lit (Lighting Design by Andrew Ellis), and often plunged into smoke which wafts onto the stalls, as it did over the battlefields, Wilton’s Music Hall providing unusual closeness between audience and performers. With its unadorned, slightly dilapidated look, it is a perfect setting for this work.
Much of Young Men, either on film or danced live, is intensely moving. Pas de deux between the men bring out the heart-rending tenderness of camaraderie in the most trying circumstances imaginable; a pas de deux portraying a brief, illicit encounter between a young soldier and his beloved sees him clinging to her in a desperate search not for sex, but for solace.
At 40 minutes, part one is beautifully balanced between film and live performance, each section helping to illuminate and develop the other. This is not so with part two, a shorter half-hour where the balance between film and stage is askew; the filmed sequence far too long (despite containing crucial narrative), which somehow robs the live finale, where an irrevocably damaged soldier returns home, of its full impact.
Of the three versions of Young Men, we would say the film worked best; but this latest iteration remains, nevertheless, a fitting tribute to the lost generation of 1914-18, and the remarkable BalletBoyz dance with tremendous commitment and empathy. It is well worth seeing.
Age Guidance: 12+
|What||BalletBoyz, Young Men, Wilton's Music Hall Review|
|Where||Wilton's Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Aldgate East (underground)|
13 Nov 18 – 17 Nov 18, 19:30 Sat Mat 14:30 Dur.: 1 hour 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£15-£17.50 (concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book via Wilton's|