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There's real skill where the Boyz are

Trevitt, Nunn and their George Piper company stirringly execute a challenging -- though uniform -- repertory at Royce Hall.

October 06, 2003|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Former Royal Ballet cavaliers William Trevitt and Michael Nunn must feel as if they're dancing on a tightrope. In 1999, they left Covent Garden to explore contemporary trends in classical dance -- and their UCLA program Saturday honored that commitment with challenging repertory, immaculately executed.

However, in 1999 they also appeared in the first of two widely seen British television documentaries that gave them the aura of cheeky pop stars and saddled them with the collective moniker Ballet Boyz.

So they're left with the problem of how to bridge the highfalutin artistic ambitions of their five-member company, George Piper Dances, with the different expectations raised by the Boyz' TV celebrity.

Their solution at Royce Hall involved showing video segments between dances that allowed them to be cute, personable and even naked, connecting the audience to the lifestyle of itinerant dancers and also introducing the pieces on view. And if those pieces looked uniformly dark, abstract, technically aggressive -- and strangely obsessed with semaphoric arm motion -- the rehearsal footage showed how long it took the Boyz to achieve their flawless expertise.

The big news Saturday, though, often seemed to be the Ballet Girlz: Oxana Panchenko and Monica Zamora, ballerinas with an uncanny mastery of intricate and daringly off-balance post-Balanchine pointe-work. Indeed, Zamora (in red) became the animating, unifying spirit in William Forsythe's 1984 quartet, "Steptext" -- a dancer shared by Trevitt, Nunn and Hubert Essakow but always phenomenally ahead of the pack.

Set to Bach -- sometimes fragmented, dismembered Bach -- the piece made a virtuoso display of defying balletic expectations. Unexpected beginnings, abrupt terminations, outbursts of dancer aggression and deliberately long waits while nothing happened provided a potent contrast with sections of dauntingly fast, complex and thrilling classical bravura.

The partnering gambits proved especially inventive and, despite its stance of thumbing its nose at the audience (and not only its nose), "Steptext" simply had more facets of classicism in its arsenal than the other, more conventionally ingratiating pieces on the program: Christopher Wheeldon's glossy, sentimental showpiece quintet, "Mesmerics" (music by Philip Glass), and Russell Maliphant's gymnastic male duet, "Torsion" (music by Richard English).

You might even argue that nearly everything in "Mesmerics" and "Torsion" had its genesis in "Steptext," though Wheeldon doggedly followed his music in a way that the idiosyncratic Forsythe didn't and introduced front-to-back lineups that yielded shimmering ghost-images in the prevalent half-light.

Maliphant spent an inordinate amount of time keeping Trevitt and Nunn apart or postponing passages of full-out engagement. But when they were vaulting over each other's backs or exchanging lifts, the men's sense of floating, slow-motion ease added a new dimension of sumptuous refinement to the male muscle-power on dance stages.

Whether George Piper manages to be the pied piper of millennial classicism or not, Trevitt and Nunn have much more than notoriety going for them -- even if, in their videotapes and interviews, boys will be Boyz.

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