George Piper Dances, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Everyone falls for the boyz
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The Independent Culture

Everyone loves a winner-against-the-odds, and George Piper Dances, the sparky little outfit started by Channel 4's "ballet boyz", Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, has won more resoundingly than anyone thought possible. After three years GPD is little only in size. Its impact is big and its ambition well nigh swaggering. Already it has a repertoire most national ballet companies would kill for, achieved by hard graft, charm, and cunning. When Frankfurt-based William Forsythe announced he had no time to choreograph a work for GPD, the pair of them took a cheap flight and door-stepped him in his lunch hour.

Everyone loves a winner-against-the-odds, and George Piper Dances, the sparky little outfit started by Channel 4's "ballet boyz", Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, has won more resoundingly than anyone thought possible. After three years GPD is little only in size. Its impact is big and its ambition well nigh swaggering. Already it has a repertoire most national ballet companies would kill for, achieved by hard graft, charm, and cunning. When Frankfurt-based William Forsythe announced he had no time to choreograph a work for GPD, the pair of them took a cheap flight and door-stepped him in his lunch hour.

Approximate Sonata is the result, the tightly wound duet that opens the company's new show and gives Monica Zamora, GPD's latest recruit, her most charismatic showing to date. From gawky beginnings - William Trevitt in slo-mo pulling faces like toothache - the piece quickly develops into a typical Forsythe snapshot of dislocated grace. Chronically skewed joints - a crooked shoulder, a collapsed hip - nudge suddenly into true creating flashes of insolent beauty. Zamora, all Helmut Newton limbs in a little black swimsuit, strikes long, spiky lines to draw Trevitt under her spell. His stubborn resistance tweaks a predictable coupling into edgier, more interesting territory.

Manhattan-based prodigy Christopher Wheeldon is another whose waiting list for commissions could see him through to retirement, yet he too finds time for the George Piper crew. His Mesmerics premiered last year, alas before it was ready. It returns serene and polished, its five-strong cast (Nunn, Trevitt and Zamora, plus Oxana Panchenko and Hubert Essakow) beaming multiple images of Wheeldon's lyrical neo-classical moves as if in a hall of mirrors. I love the double-vision opening, two couples winding and re-winding their upper bodies together like weed rooted in a river bed. The same idea recurs with more force as a closing image as Nunn and Trevitt swipe at each other like underwater boxers, each repeatedly dodging the other's blow. Mesmerising it is, though Philip Glass's insistently lyrical string music cloys by the end.

Just as you think things might be getting a bit cerebral, a Mike'n'Billy video sequence brings you back to earth with a thump. Cue Trevitt in a public lavatory applying black spray paint to his knee-protectors in Russell Maliphant's Broken Fall, a piece premiered by the boyz with Sylvie Guillem earlier this year. Suddenly Nunn interrupts. "Hey Billy, did you know you're standing in front of a tampon machine?" The videocam wobbles, Trevitt breaks up, and the item collapses in blokeish guffaws.

Earlier the audience has been treated to Trevitt emerging from a hotel bath, a spoof TV news item and a Sylvester Stallone send-up. Intersecting rigorous live ballet performance with matey, behind-the-scenes video has been a key feature of every GPD show, and essentially, it's a great idea: engaging, informative and often revealing. For its casualness to work, though, it must feel fresh. Disappointingly, much of the present material has been used in previous shows. Are the boyz getting slack, or are they just very busy? Happily there's nothing slack about the live delivery of Broken Fall, the sleek Oxana Panchenko now taking the Guillem role with steely aplomb. Anything less and the piece would be life-threatening. Even seen for a second time, its plummeting falls and tests of trust make spectators gasp. The trio is essentially a power play based on a measured crescendo of simple movements: walking, stopping, climbing, inclining. The clever twist is that though Nunn and Trevitt tip, flip, haul and toss the woman's body as if it were a plank, we're never in any doubt who's calling the tune. On Tuesday night when Panchenko fell backwards from Trevitt's shoulders like a felled tree (Nunn's receiving arms held inches from the floor), you believed that she dared them to do it - just to scare them rigid.

George Piper Dances: Richmond Theatre (020 8940 0088), Mon & Tue; Warwick Arts Centre (02476 524524), 21 & 22 April; The Lowry, Salford (0870 787 5790), 14 & 15 May; Snape Maltings (01728 687110), 21 & 22 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000), 8 June; Queens Theatre, Barnstable (01271 324232), 23 June; Brighton Dome (01273 709709), 1 July; Theatre Royal, Norwich (01603 630000), 16 July

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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