A ballet celebration: Ivan Putrov’s Against The Stream

London Coliseum
April 7, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

As the title suggests, this was an evening where Ivan Putrov wanted to celebrate those choreographers brave enough to go against the stream, in all their variety. He certainly did that. It was a terrific gala. He is also to be congratulated in assembling a small group of musicians to provide live music; always a plus.

It was a thoughtful start to the evening with Serge Lifar’s rarely seen Suite en Blanc. Set to music by Lalo, it has a cool purity that is all the more striking for being composed in 1943 in the middle of the Second World War and Lifar’s controversial directorship of the Paris Opera ballet. Mathieu Ganio and Hannah O’Neill embodied completely the somewhat restrained style that at once encapsulates classicism and extends it beyond the 19th-century.

After last week’s seemingly effortless performance in the Russian Ballet Icons Gala, Katja Khaniukova was back dancing the lovely pas de deux from the Flames of Paris, this time partnered by Dimitry Zagrebin. She proved that first show was no fluke, dashing off lightening footwork and whipping turns while Zagrebin all but flew when he wasn’t partnering seamlessly.

Dimitry Zagrebin in Flames of ParisPhoto Andrej Uspenski
Dimitry Zagrebin in Flames of Paris
Photo Andrej Uspenski

Jerome Robbins is simply not seen enough in the UK. His A Suite of Dances set to the famous Bach cello suites was danced sublimely by Joaquin de Luz. It covers the whole gamut of human emotions, a veritable Hamlet of small ballets with choreography to match. Robbins has no qualms about leaping from tricky footwork to a couple of forward rolls as a motif that follows as an ornament for the cello. At once every bit the jester and then the moody, broody introvert, this was a real tour de force from de Luz.

More Robbins followed with a pas de deux from In G Major to complex music by Ravel. Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle illustrated the tensions between classicism and modernism that is embodied in Robbins’ work as much as that of George Balanchine. Partnering is every bit as complex as the score but was faultless.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Images of Love was performed by Matthew Ball, Mayara Magri and Ivan Putrov, none of whom were even born when this was premiered by Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable and Rudolf Nureyev in 1964. Anyone imaging from the title that it is a gentle look at a romantic subject would quickly need to think again. MacMillan was ambivalent about his sexuality, reflected here perhaps in the entanglements of this intriguing ménage a trois.

Matthew Ball in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Images of LovePhoto Andrej Uspenski
Matthew Ball in Images of Love
Photo Andrej Uspenski

The second section opened with the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s 1774 opera Orphée et Euridice, as choreographed in 1978 by Sir Frederick Ashton. Gluck’s music is not something you would perhaps want to get stuck with on a desert island. That said, I could have rewound the tape again and again to see the outstanding Ivan Putrov dance it.

Putrov has an extraordinary fluidity, with liquid ports de bras that nevertheless pulsate with masculinity. He is so powerful and controlled and such a master of technique that he seems to function using hydraulics, every jump unbelievably light and silent with lines that give the impression of extending into infinity. The work ends after the music with a gesture that is the visual equivalent of a sigh; to much deserved acclaim.

In Diamonds from Balanchine’s Jewels, Kowroski and Marcelo Gomes were every bit as glittering as the title. This has echoes of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, both eschewing any suggestion of sentiment and paying tribute the great classical tradition whilst simultaneously still seeming modern.

Rudolf Nureyev seems to be in vogue at the moment with two feature films premiering in the last few months, but he tends to be somewhat overlooked as a choreographer. His creations are detailed and erudite and his Cinderella, created for the Paris Opera ballet in 1986, illustrates his love of the cinema. Like Matthew Bourne later, Nureyev understood the darkness in Prokofiev’s score. It’s only nominally a fairy tale and certainly not a pantomime, Nureyev knowingly set it in the Hollywood of the 1930s, only too well aware of the thin veneer that the glitz presented. Ganio and O’Neill presented a gentle pas de deux much of which is seated as limbs entwine.

Matthew Ball and Mayara Magriin Ashton's Awakening pas de deux from The Sleeping BeautyPhoto Andrej Uspenski
Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri
in Ashton’s Awakening pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty
Photo Andrej Uspenski

There was more Ashton and his Awakening pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty danced by Ball and Magri. Despite their best efforts, it felt fussy and uneven. The stepitty steps illustrate every note until suddenly the dancers do little more than walk, moving apart just when the music has the imperative of intimacy. The grandeur of Tchaikovsky was completely undercut and poor Aurora must have wondered whether it would have been worth giving it another forty winks if this was all she got.

There’s nothing like Twyla Tharp’s glorious Sinatra Suite to put a smile back on the face though. Tharp produces multiple pas de deux as she draws a picture of the beginning, middle and end of a relationship. No one is likely to ever come up to the incomparable Mikhail Baryshnikov in the ballet, although Gomes makes a good fist of it. Kate-Lynn Robichaux demonstrated a woman who likely to get over things a lot quicker than her former lover, neat and independent in her classic little black dress.

The terrific evening was brought to an accomplished close with the Diana and Acteon Grand Pas from La Esmerelda; another rare treasure. While no one is likely to cherish Drigo’s functional music, Agrippina Vaganova demonstrates that she was more than just a great teacher. Every dancer is set challenge after challenge to which they rose completely, Zagrebin and Khaniukova closing the evening as they began it with polished self-assurance.