“Men in Motion”: Male Dancers’ Exciting Movements!

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Ivan Putrov Men in MotionA mixed programme of ballet with Ivan Putrov and Dancers, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. 27.1.2012 (MMB)

Last Friday night, the fully packed Sadler’s Wells Theatre vibrated with electrifying performances by four extraordinary male dancers in “Men in Motion”. The show was an idea conceived and developed by Ivan Putrov (a principal with the Royal Ballet until July 2010). As he wrote himself, in the Sadler’s Wells programme introduction, last year marked exactly 100 years since Fokine created Le Spectre de la Rose with Nijinsky, which was truly a legendary moment in the history of male dancing. Putrov then goes on to say that in his role as a novice producer, he wanted to show other works after Spectre, which demonstrated the authority of the male dancer. And this, he truly achieved yesterday, in the opening night of “Men in Motion” at Sadler’s Wells.

Fittingly, the programme started with Le Spectre de la Rose, danced by Elena Glurdjidze, who created a convincingly charming girl, and Igor Kolb, as the Spectre, i.e. the man moving. Kolb has had a brilliant career with the Mariinsky Theatre and his performance in Spectre clearly demonstrated why. He enters and leaves the stage through the windows with the required spectacular leaps, which can have seldom been more perfectly executed. His elegance enhanced his technical prowess and he displayed an unusually graceful line in the movement of his arms, more often associated with female rather than male dancers. Kolb was excellent and his dancing made a superlative start to the evening.

Spectre was suitably followed by Narcisse, a solo piece created by Kasian Goleizovsky (1892-1970), a pupil of Fokine. It is a showcase for a virtuoso dancer and none better than the astonishing Sergei Polunin, fresh out of his unexpected departure from the Royal Ballet earlier in the week. There were fragments of conversations floating in the Sadler’s Wells foyer, before the show, stating that Polunin was not at his best and might be nervous, feeling the pressure from all the media attention of the past few days. But he soon put the record straight. His performance of Narcisse was breathtaking, marked by the self-confidence of somebody who is fully aware of his own virtuosity. He leaped across the stage with graceful lightness, defying gravity and landing with style. His pirouettes were millimetre perfect, each step was accomplished, each gesture admirable. He received the greatest ovation of the night, perhaps undeservedly, as the other three principal dancers (Kolb, Proietto and Putrov) were equally good. I had the impression that the audience wanted to show him they supported his decision to leave the Royal Ballet and would not love him less for it.

The last piece before the interval was Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits and with it came the architect of “Men in Motion”, the magnificent Ivan Putrov himself. Dance of the Blessed Spirits is a beautiful little gem, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. Putrov did it full justice and while his style is less exuberant than Polunin’s, his technique is equally breathtaking and, to my mind, he displays greater sensibility, delicately expressing emotions in a naturally graceful way. He is also a charismatic dancer, always moving with precision and subtle elegance.

After the interval, we were treated to another little precious solo moment: Russell Maliphant’s marvellous AfterLight (Part One) choreographed to Erik Satie’s exquisite music Gnossiennes 1-4. It was performed by the wonderful Argentinean dancer, Daniel Proietto who often works with Maliphant. Proietto is an extremely eloquent dancer, meaning that he is exceptionally expressive. Even at the beginning of the piece, when he is wearing a mask and loose shirt, his movements are beautifully articulate and dramatic. Proietto’s artistry and sheer brilliance combined with the exquisite lighting of Michael Hulls and Maliphant’s stimulating choreography gave us arguably the greatest and most striking piece of the evening. Proietto was simply hypnotic and AfterLight (Part One) is undoubtedly one of Maliphant’s masterpieces.

Sadly, issues with visas, meant that one piece, Remanso, had to be withdrawn from the programme, as two of the advertised dancers were unable to travel. The final work of the night was a brand new one, choreographed and danced by Ivan Putrov to Paul Dukas’s La Peri and inspired by Constantine Cavafy’s poem Ithaka. As Putrov said himself, in the programme introduction, he wanted to include a new short narrative piece. For it, he collaborated with Gary Hume, Turner-prize nominated artist, who designed the sets especially for this piece. The poem Ithaka celebrates the journey that we take through life. Putrov’s ballet pictures an emotional journey between two men and a woman with a sort of “open” ending, meaning, as Putrov states, “without an apparent resolution”. For his first venture into the difficult art of choreography, Ithaka was a rather interesting debut. Putrov managed to translate Cavafy’s poem effectively into movement, creating a complex, fluid dance narrative, executed suitably in a provocative, “sassy” manner by English National Ballet’s principal Elena Glurdjidze (the only woman in the show) and both beautifully and sensitively by Putrov himself. Aaron Sillis was the second man in the piece, a replacement for Russia’s Andrei Merkuriev, unable to appear due to the above mentioned issues with visas. Sillis is quite an expressive dancer and he managed the part effectively; however, it was apparent that he is not in the same league as Putrov. Hume’s settings are suitably minimalistic; the colours were luminous and well chosen, accentuating the emotions depicted on stage. I must say that I found the ending of Ithaka slightly unsatisfying but all in all, it was a solid if a little conventional choreographic debut for Putrov and the audience received it warmly. He seemed genuinely moved by the public’s reception at the end and the flowers thrown onto the stage in his honour, which he gallantly shared with his fellow dancers.

“Men in Motion” was an excellent mixed programme of ballet and young Ivan Putrov proved that he is also an intelligent producer and a promising choreographer. His focus on real quality, rather than easy commercial appeal, is refreshing and should be praised. He not only chose the ballet pieces carefully but he also made a point of having a reputable orchestra (Music Projects conducted by Richard Bernas) and a distinguished pianist (Philip Gammon) performing the music for the pieces; finally, he engaged Gary Hume to design the sets for his debut choreography, which proved a winning factor.

Putrov’s programme was well balanced and the ballet pieces fitted together harmoniously, following logically one from the other. In all, he makes a strong case for male dancing, which fully achieved what he set out to do. “Men in Motion” is virtuosic, beautiful, powerful and subtle all at the same time. The main male dancers are impressive, each in their own individual style but none attempting to eclipse the other, and each piece has its rightful place in this well devised, entertaining programme marked by technically flawless, electrifying performances. I loved it! If you like ballet, you shouldn’t miss it!

Margarida Mota-Bull