News: Vadim Muntagirov to join The Royal Ballet

Monday 27 January 2014 by Graham Watts

Vadim Muntagirov in 'Raymonda'  - part of the Tribute to Nureyev programme, 2013. Photo: John Ross

The Royal Ballet has just announced that English National Ballet Lead Principal, Vadim Muntagirov, will be joining the company as a Principal, in February. Our ballet critic, Graham Watts, considers the move and its repercussions.


When last seen performing as a Lead Principal for the English National Ballet, Vadim Muntagirov was being shipwrecked in the role of Conrad in Le Corsaire (alongside Alina Cojocaru as Medora). Little did audiences at the London Coliseum realise that his leap from the ship would take him all the way to The Royal Ballet.

Muntagirov has now resigned from the ENB and will take up the appointment as Principal at The Royal Ballet, in February. It’s a coup that reverses the tide: The Royal Ballet having lost star ballerina, Cojocaru, to the ENB, last year, and follows the very recent news that rising star Dawid Trzensimiech is leaving The Royal to join Cojocaru’s partner, Johan Kobborg, at the National Ballet of Romania.

The acquisition of Muntagirov is a major coup for the Royal Ballet that sets right the mistake of Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare’s predecessor, Dame Monica Mason, in not taking the young Russian dancer when he graduated from The Royal Ballet School in 2009. Instead, he joined ENB, then under the leadership of Wayne Eagling, where he performed the lead role of Albrecht in Giselle within months and finished his first season partnering Daria Klimentová in Derek Deane’s in-the-round Swan Lake , a performance that was immortalised in the BBC Documentary Agony & Ecstasy.

Since then, Muntagirov has not only excelled in every new role for ENB – such as Prince Dèsirè in Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, creating the role of the Prince in Eagling’s new choreography for The Nutcracker and in the austere beauty of Maurice Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer; but he has also begun to conquer the wider world of ballet, guesting at the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg and American Ballet Theatre (debuting at both in the role of Solor in La Bayadère, which is not in the ENB repertory) and also at the Bayarische Staatsballet in Munich, the Mikhailovsky Ballet of St Petersburg and Cape Town City Ballet.

Muntagirov’s talent has been recognised through the award of Le Benois de la Danse in 2013 (the dance equivalent of an Oscar) and the UK National Dance Award for Outstanding Classical Performance in 2011. Still only 23, he is unquestionably one of the world’s greatest male ballet dancers.

It is understood that he will make his debut with The Royal Ballet on 25 March 2014, ironically replacing Trzensimiech as partner to Akane Takada in The Sleeping Beauty and that he will also dance in Christopher Wheeldon’s new production of The Winter’s Tale. Looking ahead to the future, he may be an ideal partner for Lauren Cuthbertson or Natalia Osipova.

Speaking of his appointment, Royal Ballet Director, Kevin O’Hare said: “Since graduating from The Royal Ballet School, Vadim has made a huge impact during his time with English National Ballet. He is an extraordinary talent and will make a wonderful addition to our roster of male Principals”.

As much as his departure is a huge coup for The Royal Ballet it is a blow for the ENB and a setback for the remarkable new direction in that company’s artistic development that is being led by Tamara Rojo. By an ironic coincidence, although perhaps for different reasons, Rojo also left the ENB to join The Royal Ballet (in 2000), where she enjoyed enormous success, before returning to direct the ENB in 2012.

It seems unlikely that Muntagirov will now feature in the Barbican Lest We Forget programme to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of WWI, the summer performances of the in-the-round Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall or in the company’s ground-breaking tour to Madrid – although he is expected to dance in the final run of performances of Le Corsaire at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 11 and 15 February (where he is due to be partnering Klimentová in what must likely be their final performances together in the UK).

Muntagirov said: “This is a very exciting time for me. I’ve had so many fantastic opportunities with English National Ballet over the past four years and have many great memories to take with me. At this point in my career I feel ready to take on new challenges and felt that The Royal Ballet could offer me that opportunity. To dance some of the great roles in The Royal Ballet’s repertory as well as create new work being made by some of the greatest choreographers is a dream come true.”

It is understood from sources close to the dancer that he felt the timing to be right for a move to The Royal Ballet, a company in which he has always wanted to dance, and especially that he relishes the opportunity to experience a new dimension in expert coaching. Muntagirov was especially delighted to be coached by Sergei Vikulov during his time as a guest principal with the Mariinsky Ballet and he is almost certain to be coached by Alexander Agadzhanov at The Royal Ballet. Before joining the Royal Ballet School, Muntagirov’s early training was at Perm (his parents were both dancers in Russia and his father was director of the Chelyabinsk State Ballet). A strong Russian male coaching style is likely to be attractive to him.

I strongly suspect that Muntagirov will favour an arrangement where he is able to return to the ENB to guest from time to time but I also believe that it is unlikely for The Royal Ballet to sanction this. There is certainly no precedent for such an arrangement, which will not be in The Royal Ballet’s longer-term interest.
From a critic’s perspective, it is a pity that we will not get to see a grand London finale for the Muntagirov/Klimentová partnership, which has been such an exciting feature of ballet over the past three years, nor the further development of Muntagirov’s dramatic performances through a longer period of partnering Cojocaru, undoubtedly still one of the world’s greatest and most expressive dancers. But, in every other respect his move to the Royal Ballet was bound to happen. Given that Klimentová has made no secret of the fact that partnering Muntagirov has prolonged her career, her own future at ENB must now be in doubt.

Changes at English National Ballet are likely to continue and several dancers are expected to follow Daniel Jones in departing the company by the end of this season. Several dancers have had very little repertory to dance during this year. The key to Rojo’s continued success is her ability to pick exciting repertoire (which she is proving with every new addition), to bring in excellent, innovative choreographers (such as Russell Maliphant, Akram Khan and Liam Scarlett) to diversify the company’s rather atrophied repertory, and in radically updating a tired image; but now, she must replenish the store of dancers (especially in the male ranks) and ensure that the very best coaching staff, for men as well as women, are attracted to ENB.

Rojo has achieved a great deal in just 18 months – perhaps more than any other director in such a short time (doubly remarkable when one considers that she continues to dance an exhausting schedule herself) – and the loss of this world-leading dancer is a blow, but one from which the company will quickly recover if it holds onto Rojo’s present course and brings in some exciting, new blood. But, great dancers won’t always come to the ENB; it will need to go and find them. A good place to start might be to knock on the doors of Alexander Jones or Evan McKie in Stuttgart.

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for londondance.com, Dancetabs.com, Dancing Times, Dance Europe and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK. His book about the Czech ballerina, Daria Klimentová, was published earlier in 2013.

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