The Bad Boys of Dance’s new show “Rock the Ballet” bills itself as “a high-octane intersection of classical and contemporary set to a soundtrack of popular music”, so you wouldn’t be expecting much poetry or lyricism, and you’d be right. These dancers twist and turn and gyrate in a display of virtuososity, which is both breath-taking and exhausting to watch.
That said, it got off to a rather slow start. The first act, labelled Beautiful Day, with the boys in casual jeans and polo shirts, tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to meld a boy meets girl, falls in love with girl, falls out and falls back in again storyline to a pop soundtrack of U2, Coldplay and Donny Hathaway.
Choreographed by Adrienne Cantera, who also brilliantly danced the central female role, this first act didn’t really coalesce until the final U2 “Beautiful Day”, when finally Cantera and all the boys came together in a dazzling whirl of energy. It was here too that the choreography most matched the music it was set to. Till then there had been bursts of invention, punctuated by too many moments of what I can only describe as mark till ready filling in. I also rather unkindly w ondered if we got a bit too much of Canterra, superb though she is. After all it was the guys we had come to see, and this first act harked back to old fashioned glorification of the prima ballerina. Apart from a few thrilling sequences from James Boyd, the boys took something of a back seat.
All this was put to rights in the second act, when all the boys were at last given their chance to shine, and there was no doubting it was the boys the audience had come to see. It opened with a darkly atmospheric rendering of Brotzjor’s “Olafur Ornald”, and I had rather hoped that this more lyrical opening was an indication of how things were to go. However it wasn’t long before we were back to the energetic, pumping pop of the first act, only this time it was sexier, the boys in tight black pants and white vests. In particular, Blake Zelesnikar, who had caught my eye in the first half, was finally given his moment, first in a sexy duet with Canterra and then on his own. Judging from the audience reception, and the screams of delight from some of the girls (and no doubt some of the boys), I wasn’t the only one to notice him. This boy has sexual charisma in spades. James Boyd too got some amazing solo work in this half, and was the first one to show off his rippling torso. When all the guys finally got their shirts off and danced topless, there was no doubting that this is what the audience had come to see. It was also at this point my critical faculties deserted me. So who cares if it’s not exactly artistic? When Zelesnikar is flexing his muscular torso, nothing else seems to matter. Putting their jackets back on, they came out for an encore of (fittingly) “Sexy and I know it”, one by one stripping off their jackets again and flirting with the audience. By this time everyone was screaming for more, and I couldn’t really blame them.
It’s not a show that’s likely to appeal to dance purists, and in all honesty it’s a bit safe, especially when you consider what Michael Clark was doing to pop music twenty odd years ago. But if you want to see some sexy boys, strutting their stuff and showing off their virtuosity (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) then this is the show for you.
Rock the Ballet runs until June 28th at the Peacock Theatre.
3 stars for the show (that’s the critic in me)
5 stars for Zelesnikar (OK, so I can be shallow.)