Men in Motion – 2017
22 November 2017
Ivan Putrov brings us a further edition of his Men in Motion whose aim is to examine developments in the role of the male dancer over the last hundred years. The programme presents fourteen different items, performed by ten dancers. Putrov has assembled a fine team from all over Europe, including the Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Berlin State Ballet and others. Some of these companies tour to the UK rarely now if at all, so it was a good opportunity to see some of their dancers at least. All the ingredients seemed promising but the evening was disappointing, struggling to recover from the tedium of the dire opening item, The Mockracy a world premiere created and performed by Daniel Proietto, that lasted for more than twenty interminable minutes, longer than any other item on the bill.
As the audience enters before the scheduled curtain up, Proietto is already on stage, dressed in a fascist style uniform, chatting to us. He urges us to keep our phones on and take as many pictures as possible. There are long rambles about Trump, Putin and the American prison system. The lights stay up. We check our watches. Ten minutes pass. The realisation sinks in that this is the performance, not an introduction. There will be no dancing to speak of, just one dancer babbling inanely. There are heckles from the audience (real or planted, it was hard to care which). I suspect this is intended as challenging and provocative but it comes across as boring and banal. He supposedly has a change of heart and gives us the big speech about living together from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Chaplin did it a lot better.
It was grim. Putting the work on at all, but particularly as the opening item, was a major failure of judgement. The goodwill of the audience to any subsequent works was seriously diminished. It was followed by an instrumental interlude from the Sleeping Beauty played by a modest but capable live orchestra. Pleasant, but by now it was almost half an hour into the show and we hadn’t really seen any dancing on stage.
The ghost of Nijinsky hovers over the programme with two works associated with him (Petrushka and Spectre de la Rose) and one inspired by him (Maliphant’s Afterlight). Most items are relatively recent, from this century, though they don’t give any hint of red blooded male virtuosic dancing claiming its place in the spotlight in the wake of Nureyev. The participants have generally brought us their slow and sensitive side. Charisma and full-on star power is in short supply until the closing item.
Most pieces are solos, with just three duets. It must be a tricky job to organise programmes pulling together guests from different companies. (The previously advertised Timofej Andrijashenko, from La Scala, and Edward Watson, of the Royal Ballet, dropped out). A better balance between solos and duets would have been preferable: the duets told us more about the dancers. Putrov has included more complete short works in the programme than excerpts, which seems a good decision, a better chance to evaluate the dancers and the work.
The excerpts fared variably. Anton Lukovkin formerly of English National Ballet, gave us a brief impassioned solo from Fokine’s Petrushka (created in 1911), finally flopping as if someone had cut the puppet’s strings. The character was strongly felt and communicated, but it was still a frustrating experience to see it so completely out of context. Matthew Ball (Royal Ballet) gave the prisoner’s solo from Christopher Bruce’s Swansong, clearly conveying anguish, frustration, and longing. Again it suffered from a lack of context, but it really did make me yearn to see the whole work once again on stage. Mathieu Ganio of Paris Opera Ballet gave the Prince’s variation from Act 1 of Swan Lake in choreography credited to Nureyev. This was the most purely classical item of the night, elegantly and exquisitely done though rather remote. It gave only a brief glimpse of his capabilities. He remained an enigmatic presence in a solo created by Alistair Marriott, Claire de Lune, featuring a distractingly exotic feathered costume. The control and beautiful arms were impressive but there was little engagement with the audience.
Other short pieces included the comedy solo Ballet 101, where Giovanni Princic of Dutch National Ballet follows the voiceover instructions of a sadistic ballet master in moving from position to position faster and faster until he falls apart in exhaustion. It’s something of a regular at galas and the audience enjoys it. The audience also liked Daniel Proietto in a solo made by Alan Lucien Øeyen for an earlier Men in Motion. In Sinnerman he appears in a bodysuit covered in sequins, which catch the light dramatically. It’s set to a storming account of the song by Nina Simone, but doesn’t really respond directly to the music. He spins and spins to the audience’s delight and then he spins again, and yet again. It’s impressive technically but repetitive.
Marian Walter of Berlin State Ballet danced Berlin, created by Ludovic Ondiviela, again for an earlier Men in Motion programme. It shows refined technique but doesn’t tell us much about him as an individual. We see more of him in the pas de deux from Roland Petit’s Proust where he appeared with Alessandro Staiano. They are physically well matched. Here we began to see the potential in male on male partnering explored. It is slow and ceremonial, with the dancers carefully mirroring each other’s positions, then supporting each other’s weight. There are unusual balances, for example on the thighs which looks entirely different to work created for a man and a woman.
There is another male duet from Matthew Ball and Ivan Putrov, System/ A.I created by Ondiviela for this programme. Putrov undoes Ball from his wrapping paper and switches him on as if he was a new robot. He turns out to be a slightly recalcitrant one, and is eventually switched off. It’s quirky and engaging, and would have been at home in a Royal Ballet Draft Works bill in the tiny Royal Opera House Clore studio, but not quite right for the bigger stage of the Coliseum.
Putrov also appears in Fokine’s Spectre de la Rose, with the Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward, the only woman to appear. She is a delight, drifting delicately and dreamily across the stage and manages to make something real of the girl’s reverie. The placing of this piece in the running order was odd, as it needed a short break before and after to shift scenery. It might have been more sensible to have this as the closing item for the first half rather than Maliphant’s Afterlight. The programme ran very late, 45 minutes longer than scheduled.
Afterlight was inspired by Nijinsky’s looping, curving drawings. Michael Hulls’ lighting is a key part of the work and initially the projections on the floor didn’t seem to be as clear as expected. By the close though, they were doing their work trapping the fluent Proietto and imprisoning him within strands of light, the cage of his asylum.
The final item of the evening was the most keenly awaited, a new work, Jingling from the Zills, created for the 57-year-old Irek Mukhamedov by Arthur Pita. Mukhamedov made a much lauded return to the stage recently for ENB as Diego Rivera in Broken Wings and showed he had forgotten nothing about partnering. Here as a solo performer he commands the stage through sheer force of personality.
He engages directly with the audience from the start. “I know what you’re thinking” he snorts into a microphone, a tousled figure, bottle of vodka in hand. He produces a tambourine, the orchestra start up the Nutcracker’s Russian dance, and he is off, battering it against his head and body, careering about the stage. Where he supposedly gets it wrong he commands the conductor to stop and start again. Tambourines are chosen and discarded, wrecked and hurled all over the stage. The audience are in fits of giggles. Mukhamedov shows exact comic timing and gleeful energy throughout. All the other performers in the programme suddenly seemed pale and polite by comparison. He enjoys himself mightily, as so do we. It is a much needed upbeat note on which to end a rather mixed evening.