In 2012, Ivan Putrov had the conceit to produce an all-male gala where Don Q variations were banished, Le Corsaire's jetés outlawed, and Albrecht's entrechats six forbidden on pain of death. It short, he wanted to do something different in forming Men in Motion: a celebration of male dancing from Nijinsky to now.
Putrov assembled an impressive group of dancers at the La Versiliana Festival on the Tuscan coast. He brought some of the same programme and company from this year's performances at the London Coliseum, though it was presented in very different surroundings: an open-air stage, set between trees, in the grounds of a villa by the Mediterranean Sea. He also proved his ability for forming collaborations, and giving dancers and choreographers alike new opportunities.
The most exciting addition to the group's repertoire was the début of Edward Watson as the Swan and Putrov as the Prince in the pas de deux from Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. There were other débuts and premières too: Andrey Merkuriev in a solo from his ballet Shout which he created in the Ukraine earlier this year and in a piece from the Edinburgh Festival by Susana B Williams called Traveling; Berlin State Ballet's Marian Walter presented a glorious new work by Ludovic Ondiviela entitled, appropriately, Berlin; Putrov, together with Berlin's Tim Matiakis, performed Peter Leung's In Duet; Matiakis also performed a section of Petrushka for the first time, as did Daria Klimentova, the only female presence in the group, who débuted in L'après-midi d'un faune and Le Spectre de la rose.
Igor Kolb kicked off with the first Nijinsky piece of the evening, L'après-midi d'un faune, with Klimentova as a lone nymph. Both captured the stylised posing, and Kolb the perverse sensuality, with a fine touch. Curious, though, his tail which was extraordinarily virile and perky and placed not at waist-level like Nijinsky's, but butt-level, resulting in a strikingly ambiguous final image when he lies prone on his rock as the lights fade.
A strong performance by Andrey Merkuriev in Alexey Miroshnichenko's Adagio was one of three solos by the Bolshoi dancer. Traveling found him in a floor-length blue skirt in a piece created by Williams that had been performed for the first time just the week before, and the last was his own creation Shout which was powerful in its intensity, with Merkuriev literally shouting with his mouth and body but not with his voice, making the futility of the action even more despairing.
Then came the Watson-Putrov pas de deux. It is a delicate moment in Bourne's most famous creation: the young Prince contemplating suicide to release him from the torments of his world. The Swan saves him by breaking down his defences with bold, almost violent, insistence, and shows him affection in a way he has never known; this was beautifully and perfectly handled by both men. Putrov's Ukrainian melancholy inhabited the desperate Prince; Watson's powerful acting skills made the strength and dominance, yet loving tenderness, of the Swan, multi-layered and intriguing. It would be a wonderful gift to see these artists perform the roles in the complete ballet.
Tim Matiakis was technically strong and made for an extremely athletic, if vulnerable, Petrushka, and Vadim Muntagirov was at his most macho, in the most delightful of ways, in Le Train Bleu, where he could show off some of his bold technique.
Ludovic Ondiviela, First Artist of the Royal Ballet, is the choreographer of the forthcoming dance work, Cassandra, at the Linbury Studio. He has created Berlin for Marian Walter, on music by Max Richter, who wrote the score for Wayne McGregor's Infra. It was one of the highlights of the evening: the piece is beautifully and intelligently constructed, and Walter is a dancer of great charm and physical power. Something to see again immediately.
Another captivating performance from Walter came later in Lacrymosa which began and ended with him in the candle position as though in vertical prostration before the might of God. Edward Stierle's choreography to Mozart's Requiem has Walter's taut muscular body pleading for mercy, arms extended as though on the cross, finally returning face down, waiting for judgement. Powerful and moving.
Arthur Pita who, like Matthew Bourne, was in the audience in Marina di Pietrasanta, saw his Volver, Volver piece brilliantly performed by Edward Watson. It was created for Watson, under the Men in Motion umbrella, in January this year. Watson has a perverse stage personality: he can be a wonderfully earnest Romeo, but maybe the complex Crown Prince Rudolf is more his natural territory. It would probably offend him to say that a ballet on vampires could be just his thing, but a role that showed him sucking blood out of victims, then smiling like a choirboy, would seem to fit him like a glove. Or maybe it was just having seeing him earlier in Bourne's white swan make-up.
In Pita's genial little creation, Watson is thoroughly mesmerising. First his arrogant swagger toward the audience with Black Tie and white gloves like a cruise-liner conjurer, followed by him being shot after which he cockily shows off the blood on his white dress shirt. Things become even more surreal as he strips to reveal a Spiderman costume underneath. Yet this is empty posturing – the superficial bravado that our world has become so proficient at – because underneath this layer of action-hero lycra there is bare skin which cannot conceal anything. Watson peels off his red leotard to show that he really is wounded: two bullet holes in his torso ooze blood. Watson flits from emotion to emotion with an unnerving facility; we laugh when we should probably cry. It is truly theatrical, truly absorbing, and Volver, Volver tells an important truth.
Vadim Muntagirov is physically perfect for Le spectre de la rose: he is graceful, pliable, has high leaps and is unafraid of the required baroque port de bras. His Young Girl is Daria Klimentova who dreams her way through every passage of dance, showing off her beautiful feet whether during a pas de bourrée or sitting in her chair, and is full of girlish wonder as the piece ends. A shame that there was no bonnet though…
For Vladimir Varnava's Beginning, Igor Kolb is discovered centre stage wearing a bowler hat and with an apple in his mouth mimicking Rene Magritte's self-portrait The Son of Man, but this jokey/disturbing image was spoilt by an “Oh, no, not again” moment when Eric Satie's Gnossienne No 1 started. However, Varnava's piece is touching and Kolb recalls Marcel Marceau's Bip the Clown with his crumpled suit and weathered expression. His desperate reaching and recoiling gestures, and his elastic body ripples, made for a fascinating four minutes.
Yet another première ended the evening, with Putrov and Matiakis in Peter Leung's In Duet, sending the mesmerising notes of Steve Reich's music out under the night sky.
Although there are some sensitive moments as the pair seemingly help each other to continue on their journey, there are no romantic overtones as in Bourne's Swan Lake. There are lifts and pushes and pulls; it is full of sound and fury and, while it doesn't exactly signify nothing, it doesn't seem to say very much, and, fine as Putrov and Matiakis are, it was a curious choice to close the programme.
Ivan Putrov as hit on a fine idea with Men in Motion, and very different from the Kings of Dance format which is flashier and more outgoing. Putrov's programming is moodier, more introspective, and should be able to carve out a permanent niche in the dance circuit. A thinking man's gala and, from what came across, and gala featuring men who think.
All photos by Graham ‘Gramilano' Spicer
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.