November 22, 2017
Men in Motion was an unusual and exhilarating evening with highs, lows and also rans. But a medal for bravery goes to artistic director, Ivan Putrov, for daring to break out from a standard evening of stars performing the classics. One of the stars breaking out was Irek Mukhamedov, beloved of ballet audiences, who closed the bill in a solo impossible to follow. As endearing as your favourite teddy bear, he plays a rumpled, inebriated ballet dancer, over the top, over the hill and always watchable. In Jingling from the Zills, choreographer, Arthur Pita, let him loose with a tambourine, (actually dozens of tambourines), Khachaturian and a dash of dementia in a dazzling mix.
The evening attempted to show the development of male dance from post-Romantic to modern day with a nod to modern gender diversity and several other major issues; a big ask, but on many levels, it succeeded.
The Prince’s Act 1 variation from Rudoph Nureyev’s Swan Lake, performed with elegance and ease by Paris Opèra étoile, Mathieu Ganio, harks back to an era when the male role was mainly to support the ballerina, allowing little freedom for artistic innovation. A measure of that rigidity of form was still in evidence in Alistair Marriot’s Clair de Lune also performed by Ganio, who appeared the essence of romance in an extraordinarily beautiful feathered costume.
The opening up of opportunities for male dancers and the enormous technical strides were evident in this evening of male prowess, notably in the choreography of Ludovic Ondiviela which has developed in confidence, showing a clearly defined voice. His solo, Berlin, explores the complexity of dance within a no-fuss setting. Marian Walter, a dancer we see too rarely in London, displayed magnificent form in contemporary ballet style ranging from fluid floorwork to superb jetés.
Ondiviela’s second work, also to Max Richter music and titled SYSTEM/A.I was a duet for Matthew Ball and Putrov on a male Pygmalion theme. Ball, as the shrouded form coming to life, was well served by the stimulating choreography and the concept created moments of both drama and light comedy.
The comic highpoint came from Giovanni Princic, in Eric Gautier’s gala favourite Ballet 101, a tour de force for this young dancer. A second male duet was Roland Petit’s pas de deux from Proust ou les Intermittences du Coeur. Written in 1974, it confirmed his modernity both in style and substance in an expression of masculine emotion, years ahead of its time. It was danced by Alessandro Staiano and Marian Walter who found a perfect balance of feeling and form. In an evening of unabashed musculature, this duet was as much about poetry and male beauty.
The Diaghilev era which returned the male ballet dancer to centre stage was represented with two iconic Nijinsky roles. Anton Lukovkin danced Petrushka’s solos, eloquently capturing the pathos in his ragsoft body and feet, and pleading arms. Solos as intense as this, are a challenge on a gala evening and this was an exceptional performance. Matthew Ball faced a similar challenge in tackling the third movement solo from Christopher Bruce’s Swansong. He gave a convincing interpretation of the solitary prisoner, but his body did not seem fully at home with Bruce’s released movement.
The other Nijinsky role came in Le Spectre de la Rose which introduced Francesca Hayward in the only female role of the evening, one which she filled with period grace. The opportunity for Putrov to bag this role proved irresistible, although he was not well suited to the part that demands a special persona in addition to fine technique.
Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight, which closed the first half, displayed Daniel Proietto circling effortlessly in liquified movement, riveting to watch. Skilfully crafted to Eric Satie’s Gymnopedies, this pairing has found an iconic place in the dance canon. Sinnerman, choreographed by Alan Lucien Øeyen, lives in the shadow of this great work and, despite Proietto’s sequined unitard, that so effectively catches the light, it seems to be all glitter and no substance.
It was also Proietto who opened the show in that toughest of performance arts, stand-up comedy. It was brave and mad and didn’t really work, but why should experimentation, the life blood of art, not also reach into the ballet world? The Mockracy, a solo from Proietto dressed in black uniform with red armband (that happily displayed only a hashtag), was overlong. The first part, high camp social media banter, probably needed to be sharper and fiercer for the barbs to hit home. The second, to Charlie Chaplin’s monologue of freedom and democracy from The Dictator, might have had more impact as a full-on dance solo.
Much of Men in Motion presents ballet as a valid dance form for the 21st-century and if it is to counter its elitist label, it may need to do more to acknowledge our world of disposable people and gross inequality. I was pleased Putrov had given something so unexpected a space although it didn’t seem to be what the audience expected or wanted.