George Piper Dances, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Nadine Meisner
Wednesday 25 December 2013 02:27
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Our two favourite Ballet Boyz, Mike and Billy, have devised a cheeky and clever title for their latest venture. Critics' Choice ***** may pre-empt a reviewer's verdict, but it also deftly mirrors the principles employed in the piece's commissioning: five starry choreographers, each invited to make a piece of about five minutes. The result is a choreographic smorgasbord of delicious morsels, ensuring maximum variety for a company – George Piper Dances – whose small, quartet size could otherwise produce the opposite effect.

This has to be the only programme where the choreographers outnumber the dancers. Our fine ex-Royal Ballet heroes, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, plus the alluring Oxana Panchenko and Matthew Hart, share the performing honours. The choreographers are cutting-edge stars, and it was quite a coup to secure Michael Clark. His Satie Stud is a mocking name for what is effectively a beautiful solo for Trevitt to piano music by Satie. Built from simple yet strong shapes, this slow body-beautiful display might be an antique sculpture come alive, given a startling twist by the sudden eruption of balletic footwork at the end.

Matthew Bourne's Dearest Love is a typically tongue-in-cheek, character-driven duet, with Nunn and Trevitt in deadpan, exaggeratedly suave mode for a romantic encounter that casts homosexual light on the lyrics of Noël Coward's "Dearest Love" and Eric Coates's "By the Sleepy Lagoon".

Akram Khan's Red or White is both a trio and a duet, since Nunn doesn't dance, but sits speaking Khan's own words about his training in Kathak and then in contemporary dance. By the close of the piece, after Hart and Trevitt have made the journey from contemporary-dance movement to the curlicued arms and whipping spins of Kathak, we have seen both Khan's own experience and that of Westerners, progressing in opposite directions.

Red or White is tremendous, packed with information, yet never suffering from overload because it has such a strong structure and dramatic visual presentation. My favourite piece, though, has a more modest premise. Christopher Wheeldon's Mesmerics is just that: mesmerising movement for Nunn and Panchenko to Philip Glass, their bodies twining around each other. Such intimacy is more than mere decoration, the beautiful patterning made audacious by the restricted movement allowed to the feet. It echoes George Balanchine's hypnotic The Unanswered Question, a partnering adagio where the woman never touches the ground.

Russell Maliphant's Trio (Nunn, Panchenko, Trevitt) depends too heavily on familiar Maliphant devices, but the second half of the programme shows him to better advantage, with his long, earlier duet for the Ballet Boyz, Torsion. The continuum of movement, lifts and supports seems to float, as if suspended in water. That none of this is, in practice, effortlessly weightless is revealed in a glimpse of rehearsals shown in one of the film projections linking the items and offering an insight into the choreographers' creative processes. As TV-programme makers, Nunn and Trevitt like to use film, but this time the footage is stitched into the dance with a satisfying relevance. So: a five-star show, and definitely this critic's choice.

Touring to 26 June

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