Sylvie Guillem and the Ballet Boyz, Sadler's Wells, London

Failing to shine in the half-light
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The Independent Culture

The audience is all keyed up for this evening. Sylvie Guillem is a ballet superstar, and the Ballet Boyz, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, also have their own strong following.

The audience is all keyed up for this evening. Sylvie Guillem is a ballet superstar, and the Ballet Boyz, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, also have their own strong following.

Guillem joined forces with the Ballet Boyz in order to work with the choreographer Russell Maliphant. When the Boyz started their own company, a Maliphant duet was the first piece they wanted to dance. They went on to commission other pieces; Guillem saw one and suggested a collaboration, and the award-winning trio Broken Fall was premiered at the Royal Opera House last year.

Maliphant is a subdued choreographer. His dances are well mannered, evenly phrased. There are sweeps of the arm, flowing capoeira moves, weight gently shifted through lifts and turns. Michael Hulls's lighting is atmospheric but never very bright. Costumes are grey and blue and baggy.

Trevitt and Nunn are at ease in this style, but Maliphant rarely picks up on the contrasts between them. Guillem is anything but a diva in this choreography - so quiet, she's almost withdrawn. The glamour is switched off. Broken Fall, which closes the evening, does have spectacular throws and catches, but even when he turns to acrobatics, Maliphant downplays them, smoothing drama away.

The piece opens with solos by Trevitt and Nunn. They stretch up to dim lamps, unfolding arms and bending to the floor. Guillem joins them for a winding trio. Barry Adamson's score shifts from electronic hums to a drippy piano solo, and the dancing becomes more gymnastic. Guillem cartwheels over Trevitt's back, leans on Nunn's shoulder and is flipped slowly upside-down. She is swung gently back and forth, passed from hand to hand.

The catches do get drastic. Guillem stands on Trevitt's shoulders and falls back into Nunn's arms, like a felled tree. Even so, Maliphant's piece remains basically unexciting. He tidies hair-raising feats into placidity.

Trevitt and Nunn dance exactly, everything cool and clear. Guillem is athletic and focused, but she's less individual than her co-stars. You can still see a classical sharpness to Nunn and, especially, Trevitt. Their arabesques register with balletic force; Guillem's don't. Only her highly pointed feet are distinctive. You can always see daylight under those arches, even in this half-light.

The solo Two, reworked for Guillem, is similarly cool. Maliphant and Hulls put the dancer in a square patch of shadow, surrounded by bright lights. She dances in half-light, but her extended hands and feet are suddenly spotlit.

Guillem bends forward, grinding the muscles of her back, or sweeps her arms and legs into the light. Some of Maliphant's moves are a polite version of body-popping, a movement rippling from one end of the body to the other. Guillem dances cleanly, but she still doesn't make this solo vivid.

The best dancing is in Torsion, a duet for Trevitt and Nunn. Again, the two men support each other in weight-and-balance moves, but this time you can see more of their distinctive qualities: Trevitt's arrowy sharpness, Nunn's softer, chunkier style. In a solo section, Trevitt circles the stage on his knees, around a huge huge pool of light provided by Hulls. He spins from a low crouch down to his knees, and springs up again, always turning. That sweeping circle is the boldest moment of the evening, and the most memorable.

To tomorrow (0870 737 7737)

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