Man of action
As he arrived at the stage door of Sadler’s Wells in London for our conversation, Ivan Putrov looked like any dancer ready for morning class. Yet – as he acknowledged choreographers, administrators, designers and technicians at the business end of theatre – it was evident how well integrated he is among those in the dance-making world. Dancer and dance maker are two indissolubly connected facets of Putrov’s character and work.
100 years of dance in 100 minutes
The latest iteration of Putrov’s Men in Motion is at the London Coliseum, 30 – 31 January, following earlier – different – outings of the concept at Sadler’s Wells and also in Russia and Italy. Then, the presence of a wayward Sergei Polunin diverted proper attention from Putrov’s goal of presenting, “A retrospective of 100 years of dance in 100 minutes.”
There is no shortage of variety in Putrov’s exploration of the past century – with some new creations – for the Coliseum performances. Following Metamorphosis, Putrov is excited that Arthur Pita is making a new piece for Edward Watson who will also perform a new duet by Javier de Frutos with Marijn Rademaker from Stuttgart Ballet, with music by Dan Gillespie Sells. Vadim Muntagirov makes his debut as Le Spectre de la rose. Yonah Acosta will dance a new version of The Dying Swan.
Valentino Zucchetti follows illustrious predecessors in Leonid Jacobson’s Vestris and George Balanchine’s Who Cares? Marian Walter of Staatsballett Berlin performs Roland Petit’s Proust with Rainer Krenstetter, a Royal Ballet School graduate, who also makes his first professional appearance in London in L’après midi d’un faune with Elena Glurdjidze as the one nymph – and only female – in the ensemble.
Putrov as Petrushka
Putrov will be seen as Narcisse and Petrushka (“My debut, I’ve always wanted to do it. I learned it from Vladimir Vasiliev,”) – and in Russell Maliphant’s 2×2 where his shadow will be Daniel Proietto who will also create a new work by Alain Lucien Ǿyen to a Nina Simone song.
The range of choreographers not only provides a wide historical range but a far less Brit-centric focus than is customary in London.
An expression of love
“I consider myself to be lucky. I was born and raised in a dance family in Ukraine. I have seen the dance world from the inside since I was a child,” Putrov explains. “A career can’t be forever, so Men in Motion is another way of expressing my love of dancing.”
Putrov says the concept was his – and is a full-time occupation. Although a planned season in Kiev has been postponed there is interest from other international venues and Putrov hopes to tour Men in Motion in the UK. “I enjoy the research and casting the repertoire,” he says, quoting Jean-Georges Noverre’s belief that dance is an equal partner of the arts.
Freedom to create what’s new
“I want audiences to leave inspired, not scratching themselves in boredom. I may be criticised for compiling a short programme but I am not apologetic. It is essential to have the freedom to create new works even if you don’t know how they will turn out,” believes Putrov.
“We will put on a good show at the Coliseum, without doubt. The Coliseum’s reputation as a graveyard for dance does not daunt him, though as producer he is evidently frustrated by the obscurities of the theatre’s website. His role includes finding financial backing, saying, “I have always been interested in the different elements of what makes a performance – how costumes are made, the mime, the interactions of different people, not just the solos or pas de deux – so how is chasing money not creative?” The Linbury Trust is a supporter and Putrov has secured sponsorship in kind for accommodation and photography.
Not a vehicle
“Some people think Men in Motion is a vehicle for me. They are so wrong. This is an opportunity to research great works and for a whole range of dancers to perform them. Performances in their entirety. Circumstances dictate how a performance is put together – in a museum or a park for example – but in the theatre people feel fooled if they look into the pit and see there is no orchestra – or the lighting is not good – or the backdrop looks tired,” says Putrov keen to stress the inclusion of an orchestra with Richard Bernas wielding the baton and Philip Gammon, tempted out of retirement, at the piano.
Authentic – or alive?
“There will be a sense of theatre – because that is what I love,”. L’après midi d’un faune and Le Spectre de la rose will be performed with scenery. In terms of choreographic texts, Putrov is less precise. He has studied film and photographs, of other allegedly authentic stagings, but says “I have seen productions of Faune, supposedly historical, that are lifeless. I want to take the essence of Faune and show the essence of it for this century. I make no pretence that gesture-by-gesture, step-by-step, that every second is the original Faune but this staging will be alive and touch people. Stagings of plays get altered to suit audiences today,” he argues.
“People come if they are interested, if there is something to see that is alive, not a museum piece. Audiences influence the art and shape its style”. If that sounds cavalier, he talks with deep insight about literary texts – Romeo and Juliet, Onegin, A Month in the Country – and how productions of balletic versions and dancers – or more precisely those people preparing them for performance – fail to honour the intent of their literary sources.
Dancing more than ever
Putrov laughs at those people who make the mistake of asking whether he is still dancing. “The extent of their dance knowledge extends as far as one venue. It’s like asking am I still alive? Yes – I am doing more shows now than ever.” Recent appearances have included La Esmeralda in Mexico, Le Jeune homme et la mort for English National Ballet, Marguerite and Armand with Elena Glurdjidze in Georgia – with performances of André Prokovsky’s Three Musketeers anticipated in Tokyo.
“I am dancing what I want, I have the freedom to choose,” says Putrov, appreciating different challenges of a career beyond The Royal Ballet, with whom he parted company in 2010. Yet there is a glimmer of what might have been when he says, “I am starting to miss performing the great classics. Dancers have a love-hate relationship with the classics, they are tired of them. The number of performances makes them routine,” clearly unimpressed by The Royal Ballet’s programming and choice of stagings. “Dancers are the people who make ballets live. It was a delight to perform Esmeralda.”
Putrov – 34 this year but looking like a teenager yet to realise his full potential – refuses to name particular ballets or roles but says, “I want to do everything. I think I am good for a few years yet. I love dance.”
Beyond performing, Putrov has interesting ideas for dance to be performed in cathedrals with live vocal music. He is in the process of establishing a charity with the aim of subsidising students to see dance performances. “That was something I could not afford to do when I was a student. I had to talk my way in.” The intention is that Putrov’s charity will also support emerging choreographers with rehearsal spaces for the creation of new works.
Putrov has been recognised as an honorary artist by his native Ukraine. Choosing his words diplomatically he says, “It is in the interests of some people to divide and rule in Ukraine. It has been divided for centuries – but the language and culture have survived.” As Ukraine is politically poised between Europe and Russia, Putrov is proud to straddle the dual roles of dancer and producer as the latest in a long line – he cites Vladimir Horowitz and Sergei Lifar – to come from Ukraine. Men in Motion is his expression of that.