Christopher Stevens reviews 'Soul Boy – OUr Lives' and last night's TV

The troubled lad who dances to heal himself — step by step: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Soul Boy – Our Lives

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Men At The Barre – Inside The Royal Ballet

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When it comes to dance, every bloke is either a Baryshnikov or an Ed Balls, an athletic paragon or a Strictly heffalump.

At any wedding disco, I resemble a broken Meccano kit with joints spinning in odd directions. That simply increases my awe of those that can do it well.

Teenager Anthony Flavin from Nottingham can move like the Godfather of Soul, James Brown — his feet a blur of stylish steps as his body convulses to the rhythm. 

When the beat kicks in on the dancefloor, Anthony seems to enter a trance, in thrall to the music, completely unselfconscious as he escapes from the world.

Soul Boy – Our Lives (BBC1) documents the life of 18-year-old Anthony Flavin from Nottingham who can move like James Brown

And as the half-hour documentary Soul Boy — Our Lives (BBC1) told, this 18-year-old has a lot to escape from. 

In care since social services took him away from his mother and grandmother aged six, he has been labelled with ‘behavioural issues’ and is constantly accompanied by a council carer, like a smiling jailer.

Some way for a young man to grow up. No one can blame Anthony for wanting to lose himself in music, and it’s only natural that he chooses a genre that most people his age might never have heard of — obscure slices of black pop from America’s industrial heartlands in the Sixties and Seventies, often recorded by amateur artists who never expected to sell more than a few hundred copies.

This programme, part of the Our Lives series, didn’t delve into the history of Northern Soul. There was no time, which is a shame because both the music and the passion it inspired in a generation of working-class Brits deserve far more attention.

Tracks like I Really Love You by The Tomangoes, Al Wilson’s The Snake and Out On The Floor by Dobie Gray are part of the fabric of England’s northern cities, every bit as much as Manchester’s rave scene or Sheffield’s electropop.

All that history appeals to Anthony, so much so that he volunteers in a charity clothes shop, which comes in handy for finding classic threads. 

But there’s nothing academic about Northern Soul, and it’s the fellowship and friendship that comes with his obsession that really matter.

Even if you’ve never so much as tapped a toe to Motown, no one could resist the look of perplexed joy on Anthony’s face as he realised all his friends from the clubs had hired a vintage bus for a party ride to Blackpool on his 18th birthday. Keep on rollin’!

At its most refined, dance is an Olympian discipline, though some people never do seem capable of understanding that.

U.S. TV presenter Lara Spencer was obliged to apologise last year after sneering at Prince George’s love of ballet: ‘I have news for you, Prince William,’ she said snidely, as if ballet was shamefully effeminate.

Men At The Barre — Inside The Royal Ballet (BBC4), a study of the lifelong physical dedication and sacrifices demanded of male dancers, exposed that lie. 

Meanwhile, BBC4’s Men At The Barre — Inside The Royal Ballet looks at the lifelong physical dedication and sacrifices demanded of male dancers

The current generation of men is hailed as perhaps the greatest ever, even more technically accomplished than Nureyev.

Their leaps and weightless mid-air pirouettes seemed miraculous. Just as impressive was the uniform modesty of the dancers — not a drama llama among them. 

They accepted that their partners would be heaped with flowers at the curtain calls, while they stood with heads bowed, perhaps raising one arm if they felt especially flamboyant.

A man’s task, remarked one ballerina, was to disguise brute strength with grace and elegance. That sounds like the very definition of macho to me.

Spectacle of the week: Despite the technical obstacles, this year’s Springwatch (BBC2) is a triumph, celebrating the eruption of nature under lockdown. Chris Packham calls all the birdsong ‘an orchestra of therapy’. The perfect phrase. 

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