London Coliseum: 6 November 2022

If Diaghilev’s legacy is anywhere then it continues in the pioneering work of Ivan Putrov.  Born in Kyiv, the former Royal Ballet principal (he was with the company from 1998 to 2010) has promoted his Men in Motion series for a decade.  This performance to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his franchise was the fifth London date in that time.

It has been a hand-to-mouth existence with the proceeds of one show helping to generate the next – aided by numerous trusts and private sponsors (all of whom should take great pride in the outcome of their benevolence).  Staging a large event such as this without any appreciable company infrastructure, getting in the theatre on the day of the performance and with dancers arriving from diverse countries on the same day presents a jigsaw of potential problems, some of which were in plain sight: the audience was detained outside the auditorium due to overrunning “tech” and the show finished almost 45 minutes late, causing some to leave early to catch trains on a Sunday night!

For this viewer and a clear majority of others, these issues were far outweighed by the quantity and quality of the event.  The gala featured fifteen outstanding dancers in a repertoire of twenty excerpts, many of which – unusual for such galas – were new to, or rarely-seen by, London audiences and in keeping with Putrov’s decade-long theme, all performed by men.  The only exception came in the very first piece when Fumi Kaneko portrayed the slumbering girl who dreams of Le Spectre de la Rose (danced elegantly by her Royal Ballet colleague, Luca Acri) in Mikhail Fokine’s 1911 ballet.

There were just a trio of other works that engaged more than a single dancer.  Acri returned (as the Prince) to partner Matthew Ball (as the swan) in Matthew Bourne’s exhilarating Act II duet from Swan Lake; three dancers from Dutch National Ballet (Isaac Mueller, Guillermo Torrijos and Koyo Yamamoto) performed an excerpt from Milena Sidorova’s Bloom, which premiered in Amsterdam in May 2022; and Ball returned – with Joseph Sissens – to dance Christopher Wheeldon’s hauntingly beautiful Us, one of the evening’s highlights, which was followed – late in the programme – by another as Vadim Muntagirov danced the Adagio (2004) by Alexey Miroshnichenko to music by Bach played live by pianist, Irina Lyakhovskaya.        

Sixteen of the excerpts were male solos: five consecutively in the first act and then another five in a row to conclude the programme.  They included the self-choreographed (Jack Easton –only 19 and a new recruit to Birmingham Royal Ballet – in FREMD); the historic – Ballet Black’s José Alves athletically delivering a solo from Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train Bleu (1924); and then Royal Swedish Ballet’s Dmitry Zagrebin performing the mazurka from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc (1943).  There was ballet country-style in Marco Goecke’s Äffi performed by Matteo Miccini to songs by Johnny Cash; ballet Latin-style via a solo from Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos, performed superbly by Yamamoto; classical ballet in Nureyev’s fiendishly complex choreography of the Prince’s Solo from Swan Lake, devoured with technical precision by Muntagirov; and his lyricism was followed by the powerful virtuosity of Zagrebin in the Gopak dance from Rostislav Zakharov’s 1941 ballet, Taras Bulba.    

Modern neoclassical ballet was well in evidence through solos by Edward Clug (SSSS… from 2018) performed by Miccini; Peter Leung (Eightfold: Love, a dance film made in 2021) danced by Alves; and Sidorova’s Rose (also premiered online in 2021) performed by Mueller.   Three other solos came from the late 70s and 80s, beginning with Putrov’s own reprisal of Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits (1978). I understand the modern impresario was still preparing the event at 3am on the morning of the show and, especially in that context, his performance was outstanding! A solo from Christopher Bruce’s 1987 Swansong was danced by Ball and the evening concluded with Zagrebin’s third visit to the stage, performing Edward Stierle’s emotional choreography (1986) to Mozart’s Lacrymosa, accompanied by a quartet of singers.

Two quirky and arresting works by Arthur Pita bookended the interval.  Act One closed with a reprise of Volver Volver, originally commissioned for Men in Motion in 2014, performed here in front of the House curtain by Leo Dixon; assassinated at the outset by gunshot only to revive and don a superhero costume, which when discarded at the finale revealed the bullet wounds underneath.  Edward Watson was unforgettable in this role originally and – having retired from dance, a year ago – he opened the second half in Pita’s A Sheila Dance, enjoying a UK premiere.  At 46, Watson retains an impressive physique and his legendary hyper-flexibility is put to marvellous use in Pita’s comedic choreography while wearing a silver spandex leotard, high heels and smoking a cigarette.  Ever the showman, Watson appeared at the final curtain call still wearing the leotard and high heels!     

No-one could complain of being short-changed in this lengthy and action-packed programme of male virtuosity.  If anything there was too much of a good thing and some of the consecutive neoclassical solos fused with one another in my later recollection of the choreography.  All good stuff but a lot to take in!  

© Graham Watts

Photograph © Roy Tan