Against the Stream: Ivan Putrov looks ahead to his forthcoming gala evening

On April 7, 2019, stars from top ballet companies worldwide will come together for the Against the Stream gala at the London Coliseum. David Mead recently talked to dancer-turned-producer and former principal of The Royal Ballet, Ivan Putrov, about his latest project.

Bubbling with enthusiasm about Against the Stream, Putrov says, “I’m like a child that’s found this new thing and wants to share it. I want to give the same sensation of discovery to the audience. It might be a new ballet, or one done in a way they haven’t seen it done before, or seeing a dancer they haven’t seen before.”

He explains, “The essence of the evening is to highlight creators who changed the flow of the dance world with their art; influential people who broke with tradition and pushed the boundaries of the art form, and perhaps remind people how we ended up where we are now. They are the people who, during their lifetime, created and set such an example that, afterwards, dance could not continue the way it was before. People who didn’t follow what else was happening around them but worked against the stream; people who changed the route of the river of dance.”

Ivan PutrovPhoto Sean & Seng
Ivan Putrov
Photo Sean & Seng

As he rightly points out, while it’s easy to see the influence of those choreographers today, and the influence they’ve had on others, we have to remember that most, at the time, faced much criticism. “Many were not recognised. Vaganova was creating when it was being questioned whether ballet should exist or not, when it was being seen as a toy of the imperial family. ‘What place does dance have in the new social reality?’, was the question. It’s easy for us to say now, ‘Oh, Vaganova, of course’. Not ‘of course’ at all. The same with MacMillan. It was a very difficult path for most of them.”

There will be some familiar works, but Putrov also wants to show some of the things people might not have seen. Included on the bill are the Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux by Agrippina Vaganova, and excerpts from Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj, Suite en Blanc by Serge Lifar, Diamonds by George Balanchine and In G Major by Jerome Robbins.

So, how did he choose the programme? He concedes that some tough choices had to be made. “I did a lot of research into finding pieces that are not often shown but that we could, for example, Marie Taglioni’s unknown pieces because she is associated with the pointe shoe. There are many developments we could show but I don’t want to bore the audience. I want to show variety and in a dynamic way.”

Dance history is very important, says Putrov. “I was very lucky to study it when I was at the Kiev State Choreographic School in the Ukraine. I do think it is important to educate dancers about it during their studentship so they learn what their art is all about.” Jokingly, he says, “I can’t say I was the best student. I probably missed a lot of classes and was always trying to catch up but it really is a fascinating area, and when I go into a new project or as I am continually researching Men in Motion, I keep discovering new developments or new pieces for me that are great masterpieces of the past. Many of them are as important as new creations now.”

Against the StreamPhoto James Bort and Christine Kreiselmaier
Against the Stream
Photo James Bort and Christine Kreiselmaier

But he adds, he’s also a fan and an enthusiast of dance; and if people want to just come and see their favourite dancer or a particular piece, or even just listen to the music, why not?

Indeed, he tells of his father, a dancer with the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second city, and who sometimes would buy tickets to sit in the back just so he could sit and enjoy the high quality of the performance, not worrying at all about what was happening on stage.

“I guess what I am saying is that I hope to engage the audience on many, many different levels. There will be a live orchestra. The pieces performed will be unusual for London. There will be no new creations. I hope there will be something for everyone, not just as dance but as an art form that can say something and that can inspire and leave something in the memory.”

Matthew Ball of The Royal Ballet, who will be appearing in Against the StreamPhoto Andrej Uspenski
Matthew Ball of The Royal Ballet, who will be appearing in Against the Stream
Photo Andrej Uspenski

Some of the pieces are from the more recent past, including that extract from Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj, and as in all eras, there are certainly choreographers working against the stream today. While reluctant to single people out, one name that Putrov does mention immediately is William Forsythe, who last year created Playlist (Track 1, 2) for English National Ballet. “He’s been the forward-thinking master since the 70s and 80s. You look at his work today and it’s still current. He’s not stuck in the way he did things before, he’s constantly recreating himself, which is really great to see.”

But there are many, he adds. “Sometimes I go to Sadler’s Wells and see something I haven’t seen before and think it’s wonderful. There will be no new creations for Against the Stream, though. It’s very much a retrospective.

It’s not only what is danced, but how it is danced that is important to Putrov. “I think globalisation in ballet is impossible to stop but nuances do get lost. Great ballet is even more powerful when it’s performed close to the original vision of its creator. There is a huge difference when a New York City Ballet dancer performs Balanchine. It’s just a different energy. And you can’t compare a Royal Ballet dancer dancing MacMillan with most others, or someone schooled in Vaganova dancing Diana and Actaeon, one of her creations. For this reason, I have invited dancers schooled in those companies where the works were originally performed. I want to show the ballets as close as possible to the original and in the original spirit.

Katja Khaniukova of English National BalletPhoto Karolina Kuras
Katja Khaniukova of English National Ballet
Photo Karolina Kuras

“Robbins and Balanchine mostly created in New York City and It was important to me that I have New York City dancers coming to perform their pieces. I’m so looking forward to seeing Maria Kowroski, principal at New York City Ballet, dance at the Coliseum. I saw her recently in New York and she is in top form. She commands the stage like no other. It’s a very different energy at New York City Ballet and she will be able to bring this to London.” Kowroski, incidentally, is the sole remaining member of the company who worked with Robbins.

“Joaquin de Luz is coming too. It will be good to have his energy as well. And Dmitry Zagrebin, a principal with the Royal Swedish Ballet. He’s never danced here before but his grandfather, Georgii Farmaniants, was in the first group of Bolshoi dancers who first came to dance in London in 1956. So, that will be very special.

“I feel the dancers really care about this project and want to be part of it. I’m so, so happy that Marcelo Gomes has been able to join me. In the past, schedules haven’t worked out but this time he can make it. He’s actually coming to London from Russia, and then afterwards is going straight back to New York.”

Other dancers joining Putrov himself include Matthew Ball from The Royal Ballet, Mathieu Ganio and Eleonora Abbagnato from the Paris Opera Ballet, and Katja Khaniukova from English National Ballet.

Against the Stream promises a feast of an evening, a celebration of the genius, vision and trailblazing talent of the choreographers whose works will be danced and the immensely powerful legacy they left behind. Like Men in Motion, which he promises more of, Putrov hopes it will not be a ‘one-off’. Remember that dancers went against stream as well as choreographers. There are pieces created on people like Misha Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev. OK, Rudolf choreographed, Misha didn’t, but his importance is great. The pieces can change, the dancers can change, but there is so much more to highlight.”

Ivan Putrov presents Against the Stream, a gala night celebrating ballet’s greatest pioneers, at the London Coliseum on April 7, 2019. For tickets visit