Bring on the dancing boys: Boy Toy at Above The Stag

Opening in time for Pride is Boy Toy in the Studio space at Above The Stag in Vauxhall. This modern take on the classic ballet Coppelia has been put together by choreographer and director Will Spencer and Dave Cross had a catch up with Will to find out more.

Hi Will, how would you describe what Boy Toy is?

Boy Toy is a 21st century retelling of the classical comedy ballet, Coppelia. It fuses different dance styles such as jazz and ballet to tell the story, and has an updated score played by a jazz swing band. This new adaptation allows dance to speak to wider audiences, using a variety of locations in and around Soho.

What is the story?

Freddie is engaged to Simon, but on his way home from his stag do, he falls in love with a doll whom he believes to be real. Dr C is behind the doll controlling its movements as a harmless joke, but ends up catfishing the infatuated Freddie, who attempts to seduce the doll believing it to be an attractive young man flirting with him. Simon discovers the infatuation and breaks into Dr C’s Soho sex shop to confront the doll he too believes is real, as chaos ensues and a case of mistaken identities plays out.

Where did the idea come from to base this on Coppella?

I’ve always loved ballet and dance, and when I was dancing in the English Youth Ballet I was lucky enough to dance this wonderful classic. Being my first time directing I wanted to choose something I knew inside out, and being for the Pride season I wanted it to be something fun with catchy music. Lots of ballets are being or have been post-modernised by companies such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and this piece is yet to be reimagined. Having such fond memories of the original, I knew this was something I wanted to bring into the 21st century so others could fall in love with it too. I’ve also been a keen follower of the work of Cecchetti, the choreographer of the original ballet, 150 years ago. His methods were passed to me through a direct linage of teachers, and I’m keen to pay homage to his wonderful work through this show.

The theme of falling in love with a doll, has been explored in other stories, is there a bit of those in this too? Maybe the 80s film Mannequin?

Funnily enough I’ve never actually seen the film. As soon as I knew I was taking on this project I thought very carefully about my influences and what I wanted to affect my choreography and direction. I’ve looked at a lot of mannequins, puppets and marionettes, but the main comedy comes from the characters believing the doll is real. I’ve tried to tread the line carefully when it comes to the level of which the audience are willing to suspend their disbelief.

How have you adapted the music from the original ballet by Delibes?

I’ve worked really closely with Aaron, the orchestrator on this, making sure that whilst this is a re-imagining, we stay true to the intent of the original score. One of the major changes to the score are the rhythmic dynamics, with a heavy influence from Bernstein and Count Basie whilst paying homage to much of the Frank Sintatra big band songbook. The interest comes in finding and pulling out an array of colours from a smaller orchestra and making the sound as rich and full as possible.

What can you tell us about the style of dancing in Boy Toy?

It fuses various styles of classic and contemporary dance to tell a story. The main thing I wanted to convey with the movement was the narrative, and any choreographic flourishes just enhance that. Think On the Town meets Chicago. Moments of sexy isolations countered with leaps across the stage. Creating the piece from scratch means I get to play to the strength of my cast, so a lot of the choreography comes from them as performers and dancers, and what works to heighten their chemistry.

And the cast?

The cast are a dream, extremely dynamic and varied yet all unified in their ability to drive the story through their movement. I wanted to cast people who were as talented as actors as much as they are with dancers, and broke traditional conventions by asking them to perform a short mime improvisation within their audition. I’ve mixed, jazz dancers with classical ballet artists with musical theatre performers, all versatile in their ability, and all absolutely willing to throw themselves into whatever crazy idea I throw at them next.

Boy Toy opens on Tuesday 25 June at Above The Stag Theatre, Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, SE1.

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