Review: FERNANDO MONTAÑO - Narcissus film premiere - Hippodrome Casino

Performance: 9 February 2014
Reviewed by Laura Dodge - Wednesday 19 February 2014

Fernando Montano in 'Narcissus'

The Hippodrome Casino is an unusual setting for ballet. Just off Leicester Square, it is primarily a place for gambling, with a small cabaret theatre nestled upstairs.

Seating 180, the venue is cosy and intimate but there’s a reason it’s not typically used for dance. The stage is tiny, and movements below hip height are obscured by the heads of people in front. Added to this are the constant movements of waiters serving food and drinks and the clatter of knives and forks against plates. Strange then that Royal Ballet First Artist Fernando Montaño should decide to host a gala evening here, including the world premiere of dance film Narcissus, choreographed by Giorgio Madia.

Montaño danced a male version of the Dying Swan, as well as a pas de deux alongside fellow Royal Ballet dancer Yasmine Naghdi. But with the seriously limited stage size and equally limited view lines, he was unfortunately overshadowed by the evening’s other performers – a range of international musical and literary talents.

Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte sang a beautiful extract from Carmen and Chinese violinist Chen Jiafeng wowed with his performance of Meditation from Thaïs (which brought back wonderful memories of Antoinette Sibley dancing Frederick Ashton’s choreography to the music – read more ). Colombian academic and author of What if Latin America Ruled the World? , Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, also introduced each piece and offered some amusing advice on what can be learnt from Greek mythology: “Have sex – don’t shun a beautiful woman or you’ll be cursed!”

Narcissus was interestingly-crafted. In a tunic costume designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, Montaño folded and unfolded his limbs, admiring his body’s flexibility and strength, dipping in and out of a pool of water and disappearing and emerging from behind lavish marble walls. But as with the rest of the evening, the choreography took a back seat to other elements, in this case, the architecture of the film’s setting – the spa of Hotel Therme Vals in Switzerland.

Born in Columbia, Montaño trained at the Cuban National Ballet School before coming to London to join the Royal Ballet in 2005. His early years were tough; he was brought up in a violent neighbourhood of Cali “full of young guys dealing drugs and robbing people”, and in Havana, he often found himself without food: “We’d fill up with water” he told Metro last year.

Despite these difficulties, Montaño has gained success and was recently labelled the ‘Columbian Billy Elliot’ by the BBC. He also won the 2013 Personality of the Year at the LUKAS awards – which acknowledge the achievements of the one million Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese residents in the UK.

Considering the calibre of artists Montaño brought to work with him (and the fact that Westwood was also seated in the audience) at the Hippodrome Casino, he is clearly a well-loved figure. Whilst the evening’s programme didn’t show his talents at their brightest, they did give an interesting glimpse into a man who inspires not only with his dancing but also in his triumph against adversity.

Laura Dodge writes for Dancing Times, Dance Today, Londonist, Bachtrack, amongst other publications. She is also Communications and Membership Officer at Dance UK and a freelance dance teacher.

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