In a group of 10 men, you might think egos could run high and competition would ensue. But the only thing running high in the dancers of Balletboyz are their legs carving out space midturn, and their energy to work with each other on stage.
The company of young male dancers will perform two pieces this weekend at the Yard off Middle Road in Chilmark. Coproduced by Vineyard resident Francesca Kelly, Balletboyz will be performing Torsion by Russell Maliphant and Alpha by Paul Roberts. The company has been in residence at the Yard for the past two weeks, and a film documenting their experience rehearsing on the Vineyard and collaborating with masters such as David Dorfman will also be shown.
“The boys bond together as a real team, almost like a football team,” artistic codirector Michael Nunn said, sitting outside the barn studio. “We have no hierarchy, there are no rankings within the company and everyone gets a fair crack at roles.”
Six of the dancers performing have been with the company for a year; four have been with the company for a week. No one has been able to tell who the newcomers are, Mr. Nunn said. “You can see [the bond] in the performance,” he continued. “There’s an energy and a camaraderie that comes across and makes it very exciting. You have to be close to live in these proximities,” he said pointing to the cabins where the company has been staying at the performing arts colony in the Chilmark woods.
Mr. Nunn and partner Billy Tevitt performed with the Royal Ballet in London for 12 years before they decided to start their own company. “With the ballet you find yourself doing your 12th season of Nutcracker, your 12th season of Swan Lake, you yearn for a new challenge, and that was what we were looking for,” Mr. Nunn said. “We loved working with choreographers and making new things and collaborating. In a major classical company there isn’t that much opportunity to do that, so we made our own opportunity.”
Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt have gone on to commission 13 works since the company was founded in 2001, traveling the world with their company and working with choreographers from all different dance backgrounds. The piece the company is performing by Russell Maliphant was originally choreographed for Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt and has been restructured as a six-person dance.
The boys, as they are called, come from a diverse background in dance training, but nothing is ordinary about this group of men, some covered in tattoos, others with piercings — and that’s exactly the point for Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt. “I think the biggest challenge is that each of the guys has a different strength and a different talent,” Mr. Nunn said. “To make them cohesive as a group is challenging. But when it works, it really works.”
The Yard is known for its small performance spaces, and Mr. Tevitt said he was looking forward to having the company perform in a more intimate setting. “I think that’s good [performing in a small space] because we don’t want to have a kind of dance company where everyone’s very serious and you just have a row of lit bodies,” he said as his company members began warming up for class. “We want a row of lit beautiful bodies that you can get to know and you certainly will here.”
Mr. Nunn said he was interested in the audience’s reaction to a company that is based on the roots of ballet but luxuriates in experimentation. “We like to play with expectation a little bit, so I think there’ll be some surprises within the show,” he said. “Coming into this project, we’re removing ourselves from the stage a little and getting some of the young dancers in there has been great.”
Earlier this week the boys were rehearsing in the open barn studio in 80-degree heat, something Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt have experienced but was new to company members. But dancing in the barn wasn’t the only outdoor dancing they had rehearsed in; Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt brought them to Chappaquiddick on Monday for a not-so-ordinary day at the beach. “We were dancing on the beach and in the sea,” Mr. Tevitt said. “It was great but challenging. It was a really nice, empty beach.”
“I commend these guys for being open and introducing all these guys to a beautiful dance world,” Mr. Dorfman said before he began rehearsal again. He was invited by Yard artistic director Wendy Taucher to share his experience in the modern dance world in a workshop setting with the company members.
Where barefooted modern dancers usually reign at the Yard, this group of young men were clad in socks as they carefully maneuvered the small rehearsal space. Mr. Dorfman was teaching a phrase; some of the dancers fell instantly into line with the choreography, while others found it more of a foreign language. Nonetheless, they made it their own.
“Particularly at these guys’ age, just to get as much information early on, it can transform how they seek out more information over their careers,” Mr. Dorfman said. “It’s moving to be a part of the next generation’s beginnings,” he added.
“It’s powerful, isn’t it,” Mr. Tevitt said in response.
“The whole reason for us coming here wasn’t just about the performance, it was about being able to introduce our guys to great artists and it’s been amazing,” Mr. Nunn said. “We’re really privileged to work with some amazing people and they’re absolutely loving it. They all realize what a great opportunity it is.”
Mr. Dorfman has known Mr. Nunn and Mr. Tevitt for 10 years, and there is sincere mutual admiration for all parties. “You want to do things that people won’t necessarily expect when they come to the theatre, but you also want to reach out and involve them and constantly challenge people,” Mr. Dorfman said. “They’re set off-kilter a bit, but they’re also not completely beguiled and actively involved. I think that’s what [Balletboyz] are doing.”
Balletboyz performs Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 6 p.m. For ticket information visit dancetheyard.org or call 508-645-9662.