The Ballet Boyz, Sadler's Wells, London

If the Boyz want to fight you'd better let 'em
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The Independent Culture

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, popularly known as the Ballet Boyz, have until now seen themselves as dancers and dance directors, but not dance makers. The Boyz' highly successful touring format for their group George Piper Dances promoted short, tough works by contemporary choreographers linked by cheerful video clips of backstage banter. It made the art form seem less remote.

All that has changed in the Boyz' new, full-length show, Naked. The larks with a shaky camera have given way to arty, black-and-white projections by Hugo Glendinning. There's a set (a chic room by Bob Crowley containing nothing but a rumpled bed), and choreography by Nunn and Trevitt, who for once are mute. Instead, they and their latest company recruit Thomas Linecar stride moodily about, while the three women stalk the stage in strappy heels and cocktail frocks, remarkably stern and angry, though we're never sure why.

Naked (in truth, tops but not bottoms) is billed as "a story of love, betrayal and revenge", so you expect some plot. But though the first half looks good under Paule Constable's silvery lighting, and the movement is sleek and strong, the narrative is a curious blank. There's a hint that one couple is in trouble when a video version of Monica Zamora gets up and walks out, while the real Zamora remains in bed with Michael Nunn. But what of the two other couples? Is this serial occupation of a hotel suite, or three versions of the same relationship? Nunn and Trevitt's declared wish that each spectator arrive at their own interpretation seems a cop-out with dramatic fabric so loose and non-committal.

Russell Maliphant is credited as choreographic collaborator, and his vocabulary is the dominant flavour among influences of Kenneth MacMillan and Michael Clark. Couples lean steeply away from each other in tests of strength and daring, or the woman repeatedly launches herself over the man's shoulder. At one point Trevitt hoists Oxana Panchenko by the scruff of the neck, dangling her as a huntsman might a broken-backed doe. Alone, he brings off a remarkable solo, showing off his Tai-chi-calm balances and gloriously pointed feet. Lovely, but you wonder what it's all about. The soundtrack swerves deftly between serious electronica and kitsch, with a women's trio set to Doris Day's "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" - perhaps abandon men altogether and join the sapphic sisterhood; perhaps take off those crippling shoes so we can dance properly, who knows?

Mercifully, things tighten up in the second half. Michael Hulls' boxy, black-framed light creates a sense of urgent closing in; Richard English's helter-skelter music adds excitement. A climactic showdown between Nunn and Trevitt puts them back on their familiar gruff-guy territory with an added spritz of violence. Given a few more performances they may find a way to distribute that emotional charge to the rest of the evening.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Newcastle Theatre Royal (0870 905 5060) 21 & 22 June; tour continues

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