Icarus soars highest in Project Polunin

Sadler’s Wells, London
March 14, 2017

Charlotte Kasner

One of the hottest tickets of the year so far arrived this evening with something of a fanfare. Both mindful of his heritage and looking to the future, Project Polunin is a mature venture by Sergei Polunin who seems, for the time being at least, to have reconciled his demons and focused his energies on this ambitious project.

The evening got off to an awe-inspiring start with a rare chance to see an excerpt from Vladimir Vasiliev’s Icarus, one of several chamber ballets he created for Bolshoi. Here, Polunin and Osipova dance the pas de deux on the night before Icarus makes his fateful flight. Full of premonition, Aeola makes an impassioned plea for Icarus to stay grounded, of course to no avail. Tormented Icarus cannot escape his fate.

Both dancers put their all into the neo-classical choreography, more than a little reminiscent of Grigorovich at his finest. The set comprises projections of paintings by Vasiliev, a talented artist. The piece de resistance was Vasiliev himself joining the curtain call.

Narcissus and EchoPhoto Alastair Muir
Narcissus and Echo
Photo Alastair Muir

With barely time to catch our somewhat star-struck breath to be in the presence of one of the greatest dancers of the last decades, we gallop into a four-hander from the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre choreographed by Andrei Kaydanovskiy. Tea or Coffee is an evocative and witty piece where the four characters gradually tear each other apart, whilst politely drinking from bone china. A varied soundtrack is accompanied by the rattle of cups, as if the stage is subject to an earthquake. Spoons clash against the china and, between sections, in the darkness, the cups smash, one by one.

Kaydanovskiy at first plays with language, German clashes with Spanish, but, more importantly, personalities crash into each other. You say tomahto, I say tomayto as it were. This is a deeply Russian piece: what transpires on the surface bears no resemblance to the subtext. Terrific stuff.

Narcissus and Echo, is, as co-creator with Polunin, Ilan Eshkeri’s programme notes say, very much a tale of our time. Narcissus’ self-obsession and Echo’s inability to communicate effectively paralleled all around. Unfortunately, Eshkeri’s score, Diane Williams’ costumes and Kristen Vallow’s set undercut any attempt at sophistication in the telling. Costumes, what there is of them, are plastered with Swarovski and distract. The set looks like a jumble of 1950s sci-fi and a tale aimed at school children. The projection onto the ovoid shapes at the back, mirroring the pool works well though. Polunin’s choreography is rather twee in the beginning and the opening section is far too long.

The real disappointment though is the score. A bland mish mash of borrowings from Holst, Debussy and Hollywood feel-good cuteness, it starts to grate very quickly. The fact that the orchestra is amplified does not help.

It was an anti-climactic ending to what was otherwise an exciting evening, but let us hope that Polunin finds the means for further ventures.

Project Polunin continues at Sadler’s Wells to March 18. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.