"We'd be quite upset", says Michael Nunn, "if people didn't write about us. We've put all this work in, so we'd mind if nobody took any notice." There's little danger of that. Nunn and William Trevitt are dancers and directors of the company George Piper Dances (the title comes from their middle names). But they're also the Ballet Boyz, known from their Channel 4 series and from media appearances all over the place. They have a new show at Sadler's Wells, so they're doing interviews and Ready Steady Cook. "It's a bit depressing," admits Trevitt, "to think that more people have probably seen us doing Ready Steady Cook than have watched us dance."
"In 15 years," Nunn agrees. Then he brightens: "But if a few of those people decide to come..."
Now in their mid-thirties, Trevitt and Nunn make good media darlings. Trevitt is dark and fine-boned, with pointed nose and cheekbones. Nunn is blond and tousled. Both are friendly and articulate, and both are very determined to get their ideas and their work across.
They started at the Royal Ballet, the school and then the company. Their career as Ballet Boyz started at the Royal, too. As the Royal Opera House prepared to close for rebuilding, they decided to film it for the archives. "There was so much history in there," Nunn explains, "and nobody was recording it."
That wasn't all they recorded. The ROH was in a period of crisis, with rumours of sackings, and angry meetings about the company's future. The films ended up on Channel 4 as Ballet Boyz. By then, Trevitt and Nunn had left for Japan and K Ballet, the new company set up by fellow Royal Ballet dancer Tetsuya Kumakawa. It was a huge success for Kumakawa, a major star in Japan, with screaming fans and ovations. But Trevitt and Nunn were miserable in work that bored them. They filmed all that, too, to be shown as the second series of Ballet Boyz.
The experience led to George Piper Dances: "We just selfishly wanted to do things that we were interested in," says Nunn. They're still dancing Russell Maliphant's Critical Mass, "the first piece that we homed in on".
It's no accident that the first thing on their shopping list was by a living choreographer. "That's what we dance for, to create work," explains Nunn. He accepts that some dancers love working on Swan Lake, but you can see that he doesn't quite get it. He wonders if they are "terrified of putting themselves out there, of creating."
That being their outlook from the beginning, they aimed at commissioning pieces. "We're becoming addicted to it," says Trevitt happily. For their last programme they had new dances from five "star choreographers" - and cheerfully billed the evening as Critics' Choice *****. Enthusiastic reviews proved them right. There was praise for the new pieces, even more for the company's readiness to go out and get them.
To make so much new work, the Boyz have to punch far above their weight. GPD is a small company; its high media profile doesn't translate into that much cash. "We can get money for education projects," admits Trevitt, "but it's a lot harder to find money for new work." But they have dances by Christopher Wheeldon, the resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, and William Forsythe, director of Ballett Frankfurt. Bigger and richer companies are trying to get ballets from those two. So how did Nunn and Trevitt do it?
"We bend over backwards for them," says Nunn. "You can't just call Billy Forsythe up saying 'I've got three weeks in January, come and do something for me." He'd just laugh and put the phone down. But if, instead, you say: 'When are you available? we can get there...'"
Despite protestations, it's more than fitting into other people's plans. They spend time and money chasing half-promises from artists they admire. Trevitt and GPD's Oxana Panchenko have just returned from a week in Frankfurt with Forsythe. They set out "not knowing if we would even get any time with him." They got the gaps in Forsythe's schedule: working early, working late, snatching time in breaks. Trevitt seems to take the risk for granted: "If you go further for people, they respond to it."
Forsythe certainly did. Approximate Sonata was his suggestion: "He called up and said 'I've got a great idea'." It's not quite a new ballet, but an older piece revised ("restructured", says Trevitt) for these performances. Restructured? "I can just about recognise the video of the other people doing it as being the same piece." The original has a cast of ten. The George Piper performance has two.
They've also hired their first female choreographer. Cathy Marston's ballet, for Panchenko and Monica Zamora, will be about "Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. Well, loosely." Nunn looks alarmed for a moment. "I hope so, because that's what I've just made in the film..."
Video is still an important part of their work. They use it to introduce the dances, with rehearsal footage and conversation with choreographers. They also show the daily life of their company. "I think it helps the audience to have more of a connection with us," says Trevitt. Nunn is more evangelical. "It's great to see how these people create their work, and I'm always fascinated, working with people from other fields, like actors and musicians, by what their day entails." We see the Boyz stuck in traffic, or wondering if they should take the television monitor back to Argos to raise some money. Audiences love it.
What next? After Sadler's Wells, it's back to Covent Garden. The way Nunn tells it, they're just fitting into someone else's schedule - this time, Sylvie Guillem's. The Royal Ballet's French star loved Maliphant's duet for Trevitt and Nunn, and suggested a collaboration. Agreeing was the easy bit. "Then you start trying to catch some time to make it and perform it..." They ended up on a Royal Ballet bill at Covent Garden: "We just happen to be performing it at the Opera House." But they're going back as George Piper Dances. As Nunn is careful to point out, the piece is "commissioned by us, by our company". They're proud of their independence.
The next plan is for a full-evening show, a co-production with the National Theatre. They're working with Nicholas Hytner and Christopher Wheeldon. What will it be? "Handel's Messiah." Yes, really. Nunn is enthusiastic: "It'll be magic. It's like most of our shows. If you don't like ballet then you'll probably find something else on the programme. Here, if you don't like dance, you can listen to Handel's Messiah... "
They try to stay as flexible as possible. What if they booked too far ahead, then saw something they really wanted? Or became too settled in one direction? Trevitt points out that Critics' Choice was mostly contemporary dance ("I didn't wear ballet shoes that evening"), while the Wells programme goes back to ballet. They don't mean to be boxed in by anything, even their own charm. Trevitt is pleased that neither he nor Nunn appears in Marston's piece: "When we started out it might have been quite sweet that we did everything, but you can get away with that only for so long."
George Piper Dances, Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1 (020 7863 8000) tonight to 27 SeptemberReuse content