Boys dancing without girls is not a new idea. In 1933, the property that now hosts Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival saw the premiere of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. More recently, we’ve had Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” and a documentary about American Ballet Theatre male principals titled “Born to Be Wild.” Last fall, Boston Ballet presented John Neumeier’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler,” whose first movement is danced by 30 men and no women.
In 2000, Royal Ballet principal dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt founded BalletBoyz. Since, then the company has commissioned more than 30 works. It hasn’t always been all-male, but the edition that made BalletBoyz’ Boston debut Friday at the Shubert Theatre, under the auspices of the Celebrity Series, comprised 10 young men in a modest program — 90 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission — by British choreographers Alexander Whitley and Christopher Wheeldon. The two pieces were preceded by short videos identifying the dancers and offering insight into the choreography.
Whitley has described “The Murmuring” as being inspired by the “murmurations” of starlings, and the first part of his ballet does indeed suggest a flock of birds wheeling, swirling, peeling away, re-forming. Two searchlights on the floor dimly illuminate the group, whose 10 members create arresting patterns, some moving while others watch, hardly anyone touching. The industrial score by London duo Raime throbs and tolls; the dancers are tough and assertive and engaged in claiming space. Eventually they do touch, in encounters that are ambiguously aggressive or amorous. There’s a tortured solo under a spotlight; then everyone else returns for more running and wrestling. They fly off at the end, one dancer left behind collapsed on the floor, like the victim in “Le sacre du printemps.”
Wheeldon is better known here, since Boston Ballet has staged his “Corybantic Ecstasies,” “Firebird,” “Four Seasons,” and “Polyphonia.” “Mesmerics,” set to string music by Philip Glass, was commissioned in 2003 as a trio for Nunn, Trevitt, and Oxana Panchenko. Now Wheeldon has reworked it for eight men. In the first of the seven short sections, he repeats ideas to good effect, and later he hints at Baroque dance forms. But the performers here, like those in “The Murmuring,” are anonymous, their brief duets and trios suggest speed dating, and by the end the spectacle of one man flinging himself into the arms of two or three others has become predictable and tedious.
“The Murmuring” danced by men and women would look very different; “Mesmerics” would not. “The Murmuring” is, at least, about being male. “Mesmerics” may transcend gender, but it boils down to bodies in motion, and not very mesmerizing ones at that.
Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. At: Citi Shubert Theatre, Friday Jan. 29. Remaining performance: Saturday Jan. 30. Tickets: $60-$75. 866-348-9738, www.celebrityseries.orgJeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.