Celebrating male dance: Men In Motion

London Coliseum
November 6, 2022

After a two-year hiatus, Men in Motion, the celebration of male dance returned to the London Coliseum in an evening that marked its tenth anniversary. Curated and presented by Ivan Putrov, who himself appeared in Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, it was a long but largely enjoyable affair, although it did take a while to really get going.

The evening got off to a lukewarm start in the shape of Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de la rose, performed by Luca Acri and Fumi Kaneko. The masterpiece, deceptively simple at first sight, requires the male dancer to have both excellent ballon and stage presence but for whatever reason, Acri struggled for both. Carl Maria von Weber’s lightness of touch in the score, whilst not indicating crude fireworks, nevertheless requires a lot more oomph than we saw.

Luca Acri and Fumi Kaneko in Le Spectre de la Rose
Photo Elliott Franks

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jack Easton, a very recent graduate of The Royal Ballet School, Jack Easton choreographed Fremd on himself. That’s often a something of a red flag, let alone in the hands of a relatively inexperienced 19-year-old. Although well executed, the content was slight.

The choreography in Edward Clug’s Ssss belies the Chopin that accompanied it by comprising much frenetic twitching and body-slapping that soon irritates. The performance by Matteo Miccini of Stuttgart Ballet was fine but the piece itself is uninspiring.

Vadim Muntagirov in Swan Lake
Photo Elliott Franks

Rudolf Nureyev’s Prince’s solo from Swan Lake at least brought us to something familiar. Unfortunately, the music was played at such a glacial tempo that poor Vadim Muntagirov looked jerky in the promenades and had to use all of his danseur noble aplomb to bring it off.

Muntagirov was much better represented later in the programme by Bach Adagio created by former artistic director of the Perm Ballet Theatre and ballet master at the Mariinsky, Alexei Miroshnichenko. The lovely work showcased Muntagirov’s elegant lines and grace perfectly.

Koyo Yamamoto in Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos
Photo Elliott Franks

Hans van Manen at last brought the evening to life with an excerpt from his 5 Tangos. Koyo Yamamoto both matched and contrasted the seductive notes of the bandoneon in sinuous, apparently indifferent movement. He brought just the right amount of insouciant wit to the piece, the icing the cake of his technique.

Rotislav Zakharov’s challenging gopak, Taras Bulba, was a delight and brilliantly executed by Dimitri Zagrebin. What a pity that we no longer get to see national dance companies in London with more like this.

Matthew Ball in Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne
Photo Elliott Franks

A second take on Swan Lake came with Matthew Bourne’s version with Luca Acri and Matthew Ball. Both were excellent. It fitted extremely well into the objectives of the evening and, like the gopak, should be seen more in galas.

Peter Leung’s Eightfold: Love danced by José Alves left little lasting impression, however.

“A man walks into a bar…” was the initial inspiration from an impressive and thoughtful solo excerpted from Ukrainian-Dutch dancer and choreographer Milena Sidorova’s film, Rose. Isaac Müller readily embodied what is on the young man’s mind as his evening begins and Sidorova sets suitable challenges throughout.

Isaac Mueller, Guillermo Torrijos and Koyo Yamamoto in Bloom
Photo Elliot Franks

Sidorova’s talent was to the fore later with Bloom, a trio for Isaac Müller, Guillermo Torrijos and Koyo Yamamoto, which provided some of the most interesting and inventive choreography of the evening. It is difficult to achieve nuance and variety in multiple short works, but Sidorova managed it here in this relatively new work originally created for the Junior Company of Dutch National Ballet.

Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits was an odd choice for Ivan Putrov. It’s a rather rambling work that really doesn’t showcase his talents sufficiently, although he surely had many other things on his plate in the organising of the evening.

Ivan Putrov in Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Photo Elliott Franks

Two works by Arthur Pita sandwiched the interval. Volver Volver saw Leo Dixon dancing initially in front of the tabs, one reason perhaps why some thought the break had already arrived. It’s a corny piece that could just as easily have been performed in front of a star cloth or similar cheesy effort. Dixon peeled off his tuxedo, comped with white gloves, to reveal a sort of devil costume, much to the whooping delight of some watching, clearly glad that they had not joined the rush for the bar.

After the interval, Pita’s new A Sheila Dance, this year’s Men in Motion commission, questions gender and what is or is not acceptable. Created on and danced by Edward Watson, it has him decked out in silver sequinned leotard and heels. But it’s a silly, slip of a work that lacks depth and relies solely on not very shocking shock effect.

Edward Watson in A Sheila Dance by Arthur Pita
Photo Elliott Franks

It is logical that Bronislava Nijinska’s work should appear on this programme, both as a reminder that macho posturing is nothing new and neither is strong choreography for men, something that perhaps attracted her to start working with her brother. The scene from Le Train Bleu doesn’t work well taken out of context the rest of the ballet though, in spite of José Alves’ best efforts and impressive acrobatics.

In contrast, Christopher Wheeldon’s Us is a thoughtful duet, danced here by Matthew Ball and Joseph Sissens. It may be somewhat melancholic in tone but it is a beautiful, elegant ode to a loving relationship. It was one of the highlights of the evening.

Joseph Sissens and Matthew Ball in Us
Photo Elliott Franks

Ball also shone in Christopher Bruce’s Swansong, another work that could do wit more outings, for it is as tragically relevant today as it as was in 1987 when it was created. It does need to be seen as a whole, though. Excerpts, this one included, do not really work out of context.

Zagrebin reappeared to dance the mazurka from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, one of the few of his works to remain in the modern repertoire, and justifiably so. Some tricky choreography made a change from modern athleticism that often nods too far towards contemporary dance and not close enough to classical roots.

Marco Goecke’s Äffi, danced by Miccini to the inimitable Johnny Cash, should perhaps have ended the evening. Miccini was superb although Goecke’s interspersing the three Cash songs with choreographed tics, twitches and a bizarre whistled Brahms’ Lullaby were irritants.

But it fell to Zagrebin in his third appearance of the evening to provide the full stop: Lacrymosa, choreographed by Edward Stierle and which features a ripped and bleeding chunk of the Mozart Requiem, sung by four soloists representing the usual chorus. It is unmemorable and was something of an anti-climax. It takes a lot to top Johnny Cash. This wasn’t it.

While a little more contrast between pieces here and there would have been welcome, in an evening like this, you are probably not going to please everyone anyway. Just getting Men in Motion on must be a Herculean task and Putrov must be congratulated for pulling everything together and making it run as smoothly as it did. Here’s to another ten years.