Ten years after its first season, Men in Motion returns on Sunday October 6 with a one-off evening at the London Coliseum. David Mead talks to creator Ivan Putrov.
“It all began with a dream, I guess,” says Putrov, who explains that then, as now, the idea for Men in Motion, was for an evening that put the male dancer centre stage, showcasing the development and evolution of men in ballet from the post-Romantic era to today. “I feel it’s a very interesting subject. There is so much depth to it. And it’s a role that is continuously changing and developing.”
Great initial support came from Alistair Spalding at Sadler’s Wells, where the inaugural edition was held in January 2012. “Of course, we had worked together before on The Most Incredible Thing, the ballet by the Pet Shop Boys. I played this idea of Men in Motion to him and explained what it was about, and how I wanted to present it. Alistair believed in me and we found time. I’m just so happy that it was possible for me, with the support of many other people and organisations, to deliver it and still deliver it.”
He recalls, “That first year, we had a ‘three amigos’ if you like: Daniel Proietto, Sergei Polunin and myself. And so many other wonderful dancers later joined. But the journey has been so rich with experiences meeting wonderful artists who have such genius ideas.
When you start putting it together, it’s really just ideas on a piece of paper, he explains. “There are many challenges. It’s multi-layered. Artistically, I have to make choices, work out what is possible, make sure that everyone who is invited can deliver and that it’s a balanced programme. I get excited about presenting great choreography from the past and finding them the perfect match of a dancer. Sometimes dancers ask to perform rare pieces. It’s a mutual process. It’s a work that we create together really. It is challenging but it’s inspiring at the same time. And then, suddenly, it’s on stage and it’s magic.”
As usual, the programme for this year’s Men in Motion includes extracts from classical ballets and contemporary works and will be accompanied by a live orchestra. While the evening is something of a “retrospective of the male in dance in the past hundred years or so,” as he puts it, Putrov has always ensured there is a new commission, which this year comes from choreographer Arthur Pita.
Also planned are the Pita’s solo piece Volver, Volver (performed by Edward Watson) and Äffi, Mikhail Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose (Vadim Muntagirov), works by Serge Lifar and Bronislava Nijinska, and more. “But even now, the repertoire is not completely finalised,” Putrov says.
Also scheduled to appear in the international cast of award-winning dancers are Royal Ballet principal Matthew Ball (in part of Christopher Bruce’s Swansong), soloists Luca Acri (in Lacrymosa by Edward Stierle) and Joseph Sissens, and first artist Leo Dixon; senior artist with Ballet Black, José Alves; and Royal Swedish Ballet principal Dmitry Zagrebin. Among the less familiar faces will be three dancers from Dutch National Ballet; “a beautiful, beautiful dancer,” Matteo Miccini from Stuttgart Ballet; and “a wonderful young dancer,” Jack Easton, who joined Birmingham Royal Ballet having graduated from The Royal Ballet School earlier this year.
Putrov has certainly delivered with Men in Motion but agrees that there is still a little bit of a view that ‘ballet is woman’, as George Balanchine famously said, and that for a few, making the man the centre of attention is still a little difficult. But as he rightly observes, men have had equal attention for a long time now. He emphasises that Men in Motion is not absolutely not saying the male dancer is better, and indeed the evening has always included a woman in the cast, “But it is a celebration of equality.”
It’s also an opportunity to challenge dancers and artists and to question today’s reality, he continues. Referring to Pita’s new work, he says, “I think it’s very exciting, to challenge society and what is acceptable. What is a man? What is the role of a man? Not only in dance but in general. These questions are being asked and answered.” The new work speaks at a profound level, he says. “I think every member of the audience will draw something from it, although those things might be different.”
It is impossible to talk to Ivan Putrov without thoughts turning to Ukraine, where he was born, and where he father still is. He tells me that the war has been normalised in a way that it is difficult to imagine, although art still finds a way to continue, even in such circumstances. “The National Ballet and Opera has performances in Kyiv, and other companies and theatres are performing too. They usually only perform in the afternoon, though, and usually only open the stalls, so that if the sirens go off, and the performance has to stop, everyone can run quickly into the basement. Audiences do still come, perhaps to be inspired, perhaps to just escape reality for a short time.”
To some extent, producing and pulling together Men in Motion and Dance for Ukraine, the with Alina Cojocaru in March and that raised over £160,000 for the Disaster Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, does provide some sort of relief from what’s happening, he says. “[In March,] I completely went into production mode. Twenty-hour days at times. For two weeks. I just didn’t have the time to look at the news that everyone around the world was consumed by. So, yes, it is an escape. Or it can be. In a way. Although, it’s not an escape really; more a temporary distraction.”
Going back to Men in Motion and other projects, Putrov admits that it can be pretty tough as an independent producer. “It’s pretty difficult trying to fundraise and support what is going to come. I don’t have a major sponsor although some kind people and organisations support me in different ways. It is tough financially to make ends meet, but I think that artists, creators, the audience, do understand that. You spend hours, days, weeks preparing, then it’s over in a few hours. But it stays memorable and inspiring to dancers and audience. That makes all the challenges worthwhile. And it is exciting to see dreams realised.”
Looking ahead, Putrov tells me that Men in Motion will continue after this year, and that there are plans for other shows including a hoped-for return in 2023 of Against the Stream, which he produced in 2019. He reveals that he’s also been invited to stage his version of Swan Lake for the National Ballet of Turkey in Istanbul next September. “There are many things. Life continues to develop artistically and otherwise.”
Men in Motion is at the London Coliseum for one night only, on Sunday November 6, 2022. Visit londoncoliseum.org for further details and tickets.