Review: Ivan Putrov's Men in Motion -Sadler's Wells

Performance: 27 -29 January 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 30 January 2012

Daniel Proietto in Russell Maliphant's 'Afterlight'. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Reviewed: 27 & 28 January

I doubt if Ivan Putrov would have wanted it this way but the build- up to this show was a marketeer’s dream. The sudden departure of Sergei Polunin from The Royal Ballet just days before the opening night caused a surge of publicity which naturally threw the spotlight on wherever Polunin was to perform next and there were just 72 hours to wait. Given that Men in Motion finished at Sadler’s Wells on 29 January and Polunin was due to debut in the very tough role of Oberon in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream just three nights’ later, I was always slightly surprised that he had been given permission to guest in Putrov’s programme.

Although the star attraction, Polunin was by no means the only star turn. In fact everyone was cast into the shade by Daniel Proietto’s career-defining Afterlight solo. It has mesmerised me before and remains awe-inspiring. People usually glide in a linear direction, as in a slide, but Proietto glides in a spin: or rather, in hundreds of spins; an epic marathon of twists and turns, swivelling as if on rollers, to the four Gnossiennes of Eric Satie. Never has this over-used music found such an empathetic visualisation as Proietto’s slight and anonymous frame slices through the superb mottled down-lighting designed by Michael Hulls. Russell Maliphant is a genius to have made this work, which plays on his interpretation of Nijinsky’s swirling drawings by emphasising the choreographer’s passion to explore that same potential in the body’s torsion. But for all of Maliphant’s inspiration, I’m finding it impossible to imagine any other dancer doing it justice.

Fokine’s Le Spectre De La Rose was Putrov’s cornerstone for an intelligently composed programme and the spectral scent of that rose was danced effectively by the Mariinsky Ballet’s Igor Kolb, partnering English National ’s Elena Glurdjidze. I have seen the Rose performed more spectacularly but Kolb had enough elegance and nobility to make his toned-down virtuosity a matter of no consequence. Thankfully, he was able to get a visa to be here; a hurdle which neither Semen Chudin nor Andrei Merkuriev were able to clear, necessitating a reduction in the programme from seven pieces to five. On the opening night, this seemed a little on the thin side but somehow by the following night a step-change in overall quality made any consideration of quantities an irrelevance.

Uninhibited by the need for turn-out or classical precision, with his tattoos proudly on display (not covered up, as required by The Royal Ballet), and dancing like a wild boy possessed of the spirit of Nijinsky, Polunin ripped through Narcisse , a Faun-like modern piece by Kasian Goleizovsky . It was an ebullient showcase, unleashing the chained tiger (and not just the one engraved on his shoulder). This was not a young boy under pressure; rather one delighted to be free.

Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits is a slight creation made for Anthony Dowell (in 1978) and recently brought back to life by David Hallberg in the ‘Kings’ of the Dance’ Gala. Dowell has coached Putrov to be the third inheritor of this Elysian solo and the trainee has many qualities that are reminiscent of the coach, with an almost feminine pliability and soft, long arabesques. It is a fine filler but not the main event. Incidentally, the New York programme in which Hallberg danced this divertissement also featured Nacho Duato’s ‘Remanso’, which was to have been the finale to this programme but fell foul of the missing visas.

The absence of Remanso catapulted Ivan Putrov’s own debut choreography into becoming the show’s closer. Ithika is a study in human encounter and sexual longing for two men and a woman that was inspired both by the early 20th Century poem of C.P. Cavafy and the score by Dukas for La Péri. Putrov cleverly utilises choreography in which he excels as a dancer – fast multiple pirouettes and long, incisive jetés -and the two other dancers (Glurdjidze and Aaron Sillis, as a late replacement for Merkuriev) also had strong character-defining movement motifs. The ballet ends tantalisingly with the trio walking towards each other from separate points of a triangle, but passing by as the lights go down.

As a first mainstream effort in choreography, Ithaka demonstrates that Putrov has talent for intrigue and characterisation. As a dancer, this show confirmed that we see him far too rarely. As a producer, he has an eye for compiling a holistic programme that works on many levels, even when hijacked by events outside of his control.

Graham Watts

NB gridlocked traffic in central London meant that – with many others – I missed the opening work on 27 January and this is essentially a review of the performance on 28 January, with comparisons to the parts of the show I saw on the opening night .

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