Monday, March 20, 2017

World War I-Inspired Feature-Length Dance Film Young Men Commemorating the Great War's Centennial Comes to Great Performances

Matthew Rees. Credit_ Sophie Harris-Taylor
The internationally acclaimed, all-male dance company BalletBoyz is featured in the compelling narrative dance film Young Men, airing on Great Performances Friday, April 7 at 9 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) Young Men follows a group of young soldiers as they experience the indiscriminate brutality of warfare.
Airing in commemoration of the centennial of World War I, the feature-length film was shot on location in Northern France. Based on a highly successful stage production that premiered at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre in January 2015 (and returned in October by popular demand), it is choreographed by Iván Pérez with a commissioned score by critically acclaimed recording artist, singer-songwriter Keaton Henson. The production was conceived by Artistic Directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt who were formerly leading dancers with The Royal Ballet. 


Since forming their own company in 2001, they have built a reputation for bringing dance to the screen in a variety of innovative ways, winning an International Emmy, a Rose d'Or and a Golden Prague along the way. 


Referring to the original production at Sadler's Wells, Trevitt remarks "We were completely delighted with the stage show. But we thought there was more to it. There was more we could get out of this idea. And it kind of coincided with this ambition we've had for such a very long time to create a dance feature film and this seemed like the ideal moment to take what we had on stage and turn it into a movie." 


Nunn adds, "And that's what I like about dance and movement...the way it has this ability to tell a very complex emotional narrative without the use of any words." 


The narrative follows a young solider and his squadron's experience of basic training, combat, and ultimately, the destruction of modern warfare. The film is shot without words, instead using the locations and carefully choreographed dance to depict the devastation of a continent. The characters themselves remain ambiguous, representative of the experiences of young men of every nation as they struggle to maintain their humanity in an unending cycle of combat and death. 


These young men succumb to the terror of their situation in a myriad of ways. War takes its mental and bodily toll on these comrades, as they struggle to survive one day's destruction, only to wake to another's mortal threats. A potent combination of music and choreography, the film is an immersive emotional journey into the reality facing young men at the extremes of human experience. 


"For this project, the dancers did a lot of research. From books, from photographs as well as films from the Imperial War Museum Collection. We wanted them to portray these scenes of men at war in moments that will resonate across a landscape of all wars so to look at the experience of soldiers in general and to find details in the scenes that chime with what we know now," says Nunn in describing the creative process. 


The male dancers, all of whom are members of the BalletBoyz ten-strong Company, are largely only just of conscription age. (Two female dancers also have featured roles.)
When the film aired on BBC Two in November, Kelly Apter in The List found it "a polished, powerful piece that gives equal weighting to both dance and filmmaking." She added, "Both Nunn as director and Trevitt as director of photography capture the beauty of the landscape...and the harsh realities of war. It's messy, muddy and chaotic, with the outside environment often mirrored in the men's minds and thousand-yard stares." 


The program also includes a 14-minute short, "The Making of Young Men," which includes interviews with Nunn, Trevitt, Perez, Henson, the dancers and other members of the creative team, explaining the genesis of the work, and the unique challenges of translating what they had done on stage to actual locations.

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