Broadwayworld Dance Review: BalletBoyz Presents Young Men, February 1, 2019, Joyce Theater.
Sometimes you see a work that sends you back to your history books for reference and enlightenment. So after seeing Young Men, I thought some background information would be useful.
And many colleges want to cut history as a major!
On June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, an assassination bullet killing Archduke Franz Franz, heir to Austria-Hungary's throne, and his wife Sophie, set off the "Great War"--World War I. Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia. Soon after, the British Empire, France, and Russia were at war with Serbia and Germany. The United States President, Woodrow Wilson, declared the country's neutrality. The world, it seemed, had reached its Armageddon.
As Cole Porter would later write in his lyrics for Anything Goes in 1934:
"The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today."
The British were involved in some of the most historic battles and happenings of WW1: First Battle of the Marne, the sinking of the Lusitania, Battle of Passchendaele, and the Battle of the Somme. The Empire lost thousands of men; it also had thousands returning maimed and shell-shocked. It was a crisis they did not know how to deal with at that time.
The war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, commemorated later as Armistice Day and even later as Veterans Day. Then the counting began: it is believed some 11 million military personnel and seven million civilians had died.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on July 25, 1919, imposing strict penalties on Germany; twenty years later events would erupt into World War II.
Excuse this diversion into some World War 1 background. I just don't think that many in the audience got it.
BalletBoyZ, the company founded by two ex-Royal Ballet dancers, Michael Nunn and William Trett, tries in vain to address these tragic events through multi-media and live dance in their production of Young Men. It's very earnest, heartfelt, you want to be so involved in the proceedings and have your heart broken. Yet, I hate to say it, the dance piece is banal. We watch the actions, yet at the same time wonder what dance can bring to this. Something we have not seen before? Or does it just become generic-the brutalities of war once more. So many of us have become immunized to the horror. Is this a new angle?
War has been a subject many times before. Probably the most famous, Kurt Jooss's The Green Table, is seen periodically in both ballet and modern dance companies. Yet, when viewed today, its choreography can seem dated, old fashioned, out of line with the 21st century's mentality.
When is the last time you saw an excellent production of The Green Table?
Staged by the talented Iván Pérez--I use that word since this is not a ballet; instead it's a theatre piece that uses elements of both ballet and modern, with a score at once jagged and edgy by Keaton Henson, it first shows us a movie with men training, fighting, returning home shell shocked. But soon the dancers appear on stage in some sequences, continuing what we have just watched in the movie. Does it really add anything?
It is only in the last sequence when one feels shaken: we watch a shell shocked soldier, jerking, flailing around in the arms of two women, both of whom don't know what to do with him. Neither did the world of modern medicine and psychiatry. All they had to face was a world of solitude.
Perhaps there is little one can do with the subject of war. Maybe it is better left to the printed word and movies.
Others will continue.