The Billy Effect  

The BalletBoyz dance company continues to promote new dance work and opportunities for male dancers. Susan Elkin takes us for a spin

Billy Elliot has a lot to be thanked for. Rarely can a fictional boy have affected so many lives and freed up so many creative, talented and/or enthusiastic children – along with those for whom dance simply provides satisfying fun and helps with confidence and skills.

Ballet is not just for girls. Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film about a northern coal miner’s son who wanted to dance suddenly made it OK for boys to do ballet even if they hailed from a very “macho” arts-hostile culture. Then came eleven years of the phenomenally successful stage show (music by Elton John, words by Lee Hall, again directed by Stephen Daldry) in the West End which is now on tour. And everywhere boys with rhythm in their feet have been inspired. In the performing arts industry it’s known as “the Billy Effect.”

But boys and young men also need opportunities to train and perform. Enter BalletBoyz which Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt founded in 2001. Michael and Billy met at the Royal Ballet Upper School and joined the Royal Ballet together in 1987. During their twelve years at The Royal Ballet between them they danced all the principal roles.

BalletBoyz is an all male dance company which creates cutting edge new work. Billy and Michael danced all over the world for ten years with their company which worked with leading dancers and choreographers. Along the way it won numerous awards and accolades

Seven years ago in 2010 there was a change of direction when the founders retired from the stage. The first edition of the groundbreaking project theTALENT was launched in the same year. Michael and Billy selected eight young male dancers from a variety of backgrounds and worked with them closely, mentoring and coaching to create a company of first-class performers. Since then the Company has expanded to ten dancers and regularly tours the UK and internationally. In 2013 BalletBoyz won the National Dance Award for Best Independent Company.

The current show Life opened last year and is touring internationally (from Seoul to Bromley) during 2017. And a feature length film of the company’s show Young Men is screening in various UK cinemas this year. The next piece 14 days is in preparation with plans to premiere it before the end of this year.

“Creative learning is deeply rooted within the BalletBoyz company ethos”

Then, of course, there’s the company’s extensive education work. BalletBoyz is focused on much more than professional performance. “Creative learning is deeply rooted within the BalletBoyz company ethos” says creative learning producer, Kate Hartley. “We offer bespoke projects, residencies and workshops in schools across the UK, supplemented by an array of digital resources to all ages”. BalletBoyz also offers what Kate describes as “key projects” such as Dance Together, the company’s inclusive dance programme.

As well as their extensive repertoire of stage works Michael and Billy have created arts documentaries for television including BalletBoyz I & II, Strictly Bolshoi, The Royal Ballet in Cuba, BalletBoyz: The Next Generation and BalletBoyz: The Rite of Spring, as well as forty short films for Channel 4’s Random Acts strand.

Today both BalletBoyz founders Michael and Billy are ambassadors for His Royal Highness Prince Charles’s charity Children and The Arts. They were made OBEs in 2012 for their services to dance only eleven years after starting their company.

The truth about men and ballet is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, effeminate about it. The training is as physically rigorous as anything in tough sports such as rugby or running. And I once sat next to a dance school principal on a careers advice panel addressing school students. He quipped to our audience. “Never pick a fight with a dancer. He will be so strong that you’ll lose every time”.

BalletBoyz seems to be doing a fine job in perpetuating the Billy Effect and helping to teach school children (and the public) that dance is a fine and exciting performance art form for both sexes.

BalletBoyz 020 8549 8814
Contact Kate Hartley: