For some reason the christmas holidays have become the time for dance programmes that, for reasons past understanding, make it onto television.
Apart from the usual classical ballet re-treads, this year brought us a couple of "documentaries" one of which was 'Ballet Boyz, The Next Generation' broadcast on More4 (part of Channel4) on christmas day.
The film is, ostensibly, about the next generation of the Ballet Boyz, the London based dance company of former ballet dancers William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, who also made the film.
The press blurb for the programme tells us that it was "two years" in the making which is odd because over the 45 minute running time nothing much at all seems to happen.
It starts, predictably enough, with an audition but before you can take a breath we have moved on through the dancers being chosen, having their hair cut for a photo-op, a few weeks prep work, some rehearsals, some more rehearsals, a premiere, another audition and another premiere.
There is no surface which is not skimmed throughout the entire programme. No background depth on why these particular dancers were chosen and, ultimately, why some of them were replaced. Nothing about why relatively un-trained dancers were used instead of some of the many hundreds of unemployed, fully trained dancers or why they are all male.
No interviews with the dancers detailing their experiences, or their issues with learning the new work. In fact we get to know so little about the dancers that you don't even notice which ones get replaced.
What we do get are numerous shots of Mr Nunn and Mr Trevitt mugging to camera telling us how hard everything is and how exciting everything is. We didn't time it but you appear to see more of the [old] Boyz than you do of the work the company is creating and performing.
When they are on camera the [old] Boyz don't come across very sympathetically at all. At one stage, whilst choosing a new choreographer to work with, Mr Nunn tells us how they are going to pay this particular individual a "shed load of money" to create a piece.
As if the arts didn't have a hard enough time as it is convincing the general public, who pay for this stuff (Ballet Boyz are funded by Arts Council England), that funding culture is a good idea we have this buffoon acting like a tone deaf dilettante, apparently throwing other people's money around like confetti.
Downhill in Africa
The second half of the programme is where the wheels really come off the wagon as the company heads, en-masse, to Ethiopia, for reasons that are never fully explained.
For the opening skirmish the [old] Boyz (one of whom has taken the time to put on a full Steadicam rig*) are at the airport in Addis Ababa looking for the [new] Boyz who have managed to disappear into the vacuum cleaner like security apparatus.
They discover their proteges sitting on the floor in arrivals looking somewhat dejected because their luggage is still in London.
What follows is several minutes of the entire company, camera gear in tow, wondering around Addis Ababa trying to buy some temporary clothes for the [new] Boyz.
At one stage Mr Nunn claims that the local retailers want to charge them "£5,000" for "socks and pants" a state of affairs he is evidently disgusted with.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) describes the Ethiopian economy as "poverty-stricken" where "per capita income is among the lowest in the world".
Ethiopia's population is approximately 91 Million, the population in the UK is 62 Million. The UK government spent $1.06Trillion(USD) looking after its citizens in 2010, the Ethiopian government had just over $5Billion(USD) to spend on their citizens.
So yes, if they see westerners wondering around, especially one with £20,000(GBP) worth of camera gear strapped to his chest, they are going to try it on a little but you don't act like a petulant jackass who just got overcharged in a Soho restaurant.
You exercise a little cool headed judgement and move on because the Ethiopians have some real issues to deal with, you have lost luggage to deal with.
Also, given the [old] Boyz travel experience it might have been a good idea for them to suggest to the [new] Boyz that they pack a couple of changes of clothes in their carry on bags. Most people do that no matter where they are travelling. Farcical market shenanigans avoided.
At this stage we're not sure the [old] Boyz should be left in charge of a lost kitten, much less a dance company.
More Tone Deaf
The pace of the "documenting" continues much as it did in London with various bits and pieces of footage thrown together of the [new] Boyz working with a group of Ethiopian dancers, from a local dance company, to put together a show.
The voice over, provided by the [old] Boyz, grinds on with some hysterics about lights (they don't have any) and various minor injuries and afflictions befalling the dancers at one stage or another.
Again, taking their location into account, this all sounds completely ridiculous. If you don't have any lights why didn't you FedEx some across with you (it can be done, we checked) or do the show outside. Such things are mind numbing minutia that should't be in a documentary when there are bigger stories to be told.
The final slap in the face comes with another voice-over, this time from Mr Trevitt, saying that the show has raised £600 that will enable the local dance company to keep going for another year.
It would be a heart warming moment were it not for the fact that we know that ACE funded this little film to the tune of £40,000 and Channel 4 threw in another £40,000.
We don't know what they spent the money on but £80,000 to put this nonsense onto a digital memory card was £79,950 too much (the £50 was for the memory card). ACE could have just given the money to the company in Addis Ababa and a whole lot more could have been achieved.
The entire documentary comes across as nothing more than a photo-op. It's all empty packaging with nothing inside the box, the film doesn't scratch the surface because surface is all there is.
In the wacky world of dance the Ballet Boyz are a divisive company. The Middle England Ladies That Lunch club seem to love them and what they do. The wider dance profession looks upon them slightly puzzled by all the support and attention they get. Here in TheLab™ we're running out of reasons not to have the [old] Boyz thrown in a North Korean Prison for a very long time.
The main reason being we don't have the power to throw people in prison. If only wishing made it so!
*Steadicam is a brand name for a camera stabilisation device comprising a body harness, spring loaded arm and a "sled" that holds the camera and other gear so the operator can create smooth tracking shots.