Guest author Matthew Paluch sees the 10th-anniversary performance of Men in Motion
|Title||Men in Motion|
|Company||Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion|
|Venue||The London Coliseum|
|Date||6 November 2022|
“Thrilling exploration of the changing role of the male dancer pays homage to the greatest dancers and choreographers, past and present.”
Can’t be bad right?
Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion celebrates its tenth anniversary at the London Coliseum after the original sold-out season in 2012. Putrov’s “international cast of award-winning dancers” included Royal Ballet dancers Matthew Ball, Edward Watson, Vadim Muntagirov, Leo Dixon, Joseph Sissens and Luca Acri, together with Matteo Miccini (Stuttgart Ballet), José Alves (Ballet Black) and Dmitry Zagrebin (Royal Swedish Ballet).
When describing the evolvement addressed, the publicity mentions names such as Nijinsky, Lifar, Nureyev, Dowell, Baryshnikov, and the present-day dancers as points of reference. The male dancer is a huge subject and means many different things to different people. In fact, the concept of male does, and the associated perceptions of masculinity. Is it possible to curate a programme that satisfies all needs…?
Gala formats are never easy viewing, even when they run smoothly – which this mostly did, apart from the odd lighting blip. With excerpts taken out of context, both the dancers and the audience can struggle. That said, the smorgasbord offered was extensive and varied – in many ways.
Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose opened the evening danced by Luca Acri and Fumi Kaneko – the only female dancer. Kaneko didn’t have the Karsavina bonnet, which is no bad thing, and brought her usual commitment and finesse to the role. I like Acri a lot. He’s a great dancer with oodles of energy and approached this iconic role intelligently. His dancing had the right mix of scissor-like batterie and soft, perfumed port de bras. More molten elbows and wrists wouldn’t go amiss, but it definitely felt like Smell-O-Vision territory.
Fremd followed choreographed and danced by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jack Easton. There’s something about seeing a choreographer dance their own work. An obvious pleasurable naturalness. Easton defined what it means to be a present-day ballet company member – just ballet isn’t enough. Dancers now need modern technique with a side order of gymnastic capabilities, which Easton has in spades. Not to everyone’s taste perhaps, but a reality of the 2020s.
Matteo Miccini of Stuttgart Ballet danced two solos in the programme. Ssss by Edward Clug and Affi by Marco Goecke. Both modern, highly articulate, and dynamic they showed off Miccini’s prowess. He’s a brilliant dancer, and somehow only still a soloist at Stuttgart! It would’ve been nice to see him in a classical work though, as a double tour in the Goecke suggested mega technique and clarity. London hopes for more soon.
The danseur noble of danseurs nobles, Vadim Muntagirov, also danced two solos: Rudolf Nureyev’s Act 1 Swan Lake and Adagio by Alexey Miroscnichenko. Even the unfazeable Muntagirov wrestled somewhat with Nureyev’s choreography. It’s hard dancing other people’s steps – especially Rudy’s – but Muntagirov is a rare breed who allows the dancing to do the talking. The embedded expression of the movement is the star of his show. A truly humble, extraordinary artist.
Next came the solo from Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos danced by Dutch National’s Koyo Yamamoto. This was an important moment when the London audience was introduced to a new, exciting, infectious dancer. Yamamoto conveyed a panache fuelled performance with a confident technique and dazzling smile. And he handled (the master) van Manen extremely well. Just the right amount of play and abandon. He needs a little maturity when it comes to the walking section though – less is definitely more here.
Dmitry Zagrebin of Royal Swedish Ballet danced no less than three solos throughout the evening. Gopak from Taras Bulba by Rostislav Zakharov, the Suite en Blanc Mazurka by Serge Lifar and Lacrymosa by Edward Stierle. He’s definitely a dancer of the Bolshoi school – bravado central. The Gopak was a character-laced bullet; the mazurka, all rippling thighs and grand allegro; and Lacrymosa was just bizarre choreographically. He’s an astonishing dancer but verged on a bit wild. He’ll be sore today I reckon.
It was super interesting to see the Act 2 pas de deux from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake again after a long period, danced by Luca Acri and Matthew Ball. It reminded me of how ahead of its time it was. Bourne was overtly posing questions about gender and sexuality in performance before the very necessary discussions started to be properly contemplated. Was this moment one of the (commercial) catalysts? KUDOS. Ball brought a slightly sinister vibe to his White Swan which read well, but Acri needs a bit more time to understand the sensitive depth of the Prince role.
Ball had another retro moment in Christopher Bruce’s Swansong from 1987. He did it justice, but it felt more retro than relevant.
Jose Alves of Ballet Black also danced two solos in the bill. Eightfold: Love by Peter Leung and Le Train Bleu by Bronislava Nijinska. Neither of these rocked my world choreographically, but there’s certainly lots to consider about Nijinska’s 1924 comment on the Alpha male – toxic masculinity dressed in a Chanel bathing suit. Alves brought bigness and boldness to both moments.
Milena Sidorova had two of her works featured in the gala: Rose danced by Isaac Mueller, and Bloom with Mueller, Guillermo Torrijos and Yamamoto (all Dutch National). Sidorova has a kind of light, blasé movement language. She’s clearly been influenced by van Manen as a dancer in Amsterdam, but to me she’s misinterpreting subtlety as nonchalant. I also didn’t massively enjoy either of her choices of (gimmicky?) music.
It was also wonderful to see the producer of the evening, Ivan Putrov, dancing in Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits – and lord is he in good nick. I remember when Putrov rocked up at the Royal Ballet School in 1996. We’d never seen a triple tour before, or such a never-ending demi-plié. It was a joy to see him on stage again performing with such conviction and purpose.
Works by Arthur Pita closed the first half (Volver Volver with Leo Dixon) and opened the second half (a Sheila dance with the recently retired Edward Watson). Pita is an eclectic creative and both works followed suit. Volver Volver seemed to be a comment of sorts on masculinity via James Bond and Spiderman. Dixon looked cinematic but the choreography didn’t support the premise. A Sheila Dance was a good excuse to see Watson and his infamous scotch eggs in heels, a sparkly leotard and puffing away on a faux fag. He werked said heels and even got a mini round of applause for executing a 200-degree penché. Though I’m still not super sure of the Sheila from A Chorus Line connection – and I’m also unsure Sheila would approve.
The evening’s highlight for me was Christopher Wheeldon’s Us danced by Matthew Ball and Joseph Sissens. It’s a male duet that seemingly discusses tenderness, both physically and emotionally. And when Wheeldon is good, he’s hard to beat. Here he uses a Russell Maliphant style play with partnering balance which keeps the observer very much on the edge of their seat. He also includes his interlocking arms motif seen in This Bitter Earth, which alludes to the inner mechanics of a safe, in a poetic way. But it’s the aura of tenderness that has the biggest impact. Shown through intimate, longing touch and lingering suspensions. Ball and Sissens did him proud. Sissens is one of a kind: mid-piece, mid-phrase, he caught an arabesque line that felt eternal, using ‘simple’ movement to literally take the audience’s breath away. Powerful stuff.
Bravo to all, but in particular Putrov. He really did deliver on all that was promised and then some. It felt like a Men in Motion for 2022, and that’s massively appreciated… by all the different kinds of men it aimed to represent.