Men in Motion – London Coliseum – 30 January 2014

I like watching men dance.  That’s one of the things that first drew me to ballet, way back in 2004, when “ballet” to me meant girls in tutus, and I then saw the Hamburg Ballet perform and it changed everything.  Men were the focus there—strong, graceful, expressive.  It was fascinating for me to watch—something I wasn’t even aware existed.

So I was really pleased when I saw Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion announced at the London Coliseum: it sounded like something I would love, especially with all the Nijinsky pieces.  And now I’ve finally seen it.

I loved the evening—I enjoyed some pieces more than others, but I loved the theme and loved the chance to see so many wonderful dancers.  (And I loved that it had live music!  That’s rare for something like this but it makes such a difference.)  I’m really grateful to Putrov for putting this together, and I hope there’s more to come in this vein.

Read on for my probably too long opinions of all fifteen pieces.

Men in Motion
Ivan Putrov
© Andre Uspen

L’après-midi d’un faune / Original choreography: Nijinsky, Adaptation: Putrov / Performed by: Rainer Krenstetter, Elena Glurdjidze

I was really pleased by the amount of Nijinsky on the bill, and I love this ballet, so I was happy to see it included.  Unfortunately, though, it never really took off due to a lackluster performance by Rainer Krenstetter.

I think someone dancing in this role needs to convey the animal aspect of the Faune, and the movements need to be sharp and angular and controlled, and powerful.  Krenstetter did not have any of this—and at times, he seemed almost unsure of the choreography.  His performance reminded me a bit of Serge Lifar’s interpretation of the role—okay, it wasn’t as bad as all that, but it wasn’t very good.

I see Ivan Putrov has arranged this version, and I think something has been lost with this version of it.  There are too many movements that don’t fit in with the language of the choreography or the character of the Faune.  Like in this version, when the Faune picks up the veil, he frantically moves it over his face, ruining the angular arms he should have.

The Faune’s movements should be much more controlled, so when he does express something, it stands out.

I’m really starting to despair over whether I’ll ever see a good performance of this ballet.  I don’t think anyone can ever match Otto Bubenicek in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, but I would dearly love to see someone as good as Charles Jude was in the role.  Where are you, dancers who can do justice to this role?

This version also started with the curtain up, and I can’t remember if this is correct but I thought the original ballet started with the curtain down, with the music playing, and the curtain rising at that perfect pause in the music.  That’s how I saw Boston Ballet do it last summer, and that’s how I think it should be.

Funny enough, I’ve seen this piece performed twice at the London Coliseum, and both times people were vocally unhappy with the choreography.  The first time, the people sitting next to me were laughing at the choreography while it was being performed, which was awful.  And this time (in the interval, at least, thank god) I heard a woman behind me say, “I didn’t like that first one much.  I was just like, could you dance please.  Could you just move or do something.”  Sigh.  I wasn’t sure if I should try to explain it to them or just be amused that 100+ years later, people still don’t get it.


Narcisse /Choreography: Goleizovsky / Performed by: Ivan Putrov

When I saw this on the bill, I was hoping it would be the Nijinsky version.  It wasn’t, but that’s OK, because I really enjoyed watching Ivan Putrov, a beautiful, playful, inquisitive presence here.  His performance almost seemed contradictory: he leapt into the air powerfully, but seemed so light and landed silently; his movements were perfectly controlled, but appeared spontaneous.

I really enjoyed the Tcherepnin music, too—it’s nice to hear this stuff after reading about the history of it.

Vestris / Choreography: Jacobson / Performed by: Valentino Zucchetti 

Very funny.  Delightful performance from Zucchetti.

Adagio / Music Bach; choreography Miroshnichenko / Performed by: Vadim Muntagirov

I was really looking forward to seeing Vadim Muntagirov again, since I really enjoyed him in Songs of a Wayfarer over the summer.  This piece played to his strengths in similar ways—he has a beautiful line, he’s a very lyrical dancer, and he has exquisitely expressive arms.  It’s unreal: you think you’ve seen beautiful arms, and then you see him.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  His arms seem so ethereal, the way he moves them, more liquid than flesh and bone.

It’s so strange: he has this ability to completely transform himself when he dances.  You see him warming up onstage and you see a boy wearing a Lakers top.  Then you see him dance and he’s someone else entirely.  He is wondrous.

Of course, he’s been in the news lately with his move to the Royal Ballet.  He absolutely deserves it, if that’s where he’d prefer to be—I don’t really regularly go to see them, so I’ll have to adapt a bit, but I will certainly do it to see him dance again.  I know we’ll see great things from him in the future and I wish him all the best.

Sinnerman / Choreography: Øyen / Performed by: Daniel Proietto

There were a few titters from the audience as Daniel Proietto walked onto the brightly lit stage in a full-length sequined bodysuit.  But then the lights went down, the music started, and Proietto began to dance, and they were quickly quiet.  The choreography combined with the costume and the lighting was astonishing: there was only meager light, but it reflected off every sequin of the costume, the light twisting and turning as Proietto moved.  Excellent choice of song, too—and Proietto seemed so in tune with the music.  It was thrilling—and the audience adored it.

3 With D / Choreography: De Frutos / Performed by: Edward Watson, Marijn Rademaker

I loved this a lot: this was my favorite of the evening, after Spectre de la Rose.  Can’t Edward Watson and Marijn Rademaker dance together all the time?  They have incredible chemistry together, and with their contrasting physiques they made a fascinating pair.

With just the two of them on stage, plus Dan Gillespie Sells and his guitar (and piano for the last two songs), the piece had such an intimate feel, with these two men attempting to connect, drawing back, then trying again.  And Watson and Rademaker were wonderful, never shying away from the emotional aspects of the piece.

More like this, please.

Lacrimosa / Choreography: Pandy / Performed by: Marian Walter

 This music was not really what I’d expect for a ballet, but it worked surprisingly well, and Marian Walter’s performance was so moving.  It’s a very short piece but it packs in a lot of feeling.

Volver, Volver / Choreography: Pita / Performed by: Edward Watson

I’m afraid I don’t get this at all.  Edward Watson is very charming, though.

Äffi / Choreography: Goecke / Performed by: Marijn Rademaker

I hadn’t seen anything by Goecke before this, but I found his frantic, twitchy style of choreography here completely fascinating.  And Marijn Rademaker seemed completely dedicated to the choreography.  I loved watching this.

Rademaker was one of the revelations of the evening for me: he’s wonderful, so compelling to watch.  I see he’s played Iago in Neumeier’s Othello—I’d love to see that.

It’s great to see more dancers from other German companies, because I sometimes hear of them via the Hamburg Ballet—them performing Neumeier’s ballets or guesting or whatnot—so it was really interesting to actually see some of these dancers.

Petrushka / Choreography: Fokine / Performed by: Ivan Putrov

Now this is a ballet that’s dear to my heart, and from what Putrov said in the program about it I think he has the right idea, but I don’t think it really worked, sadly.

After seeing this, I’m not so sure that divorcing the second act from the rest of the ballet is wise.  I think it needs the contrast between the bright, vivid scenes of the fair and the coldness of Petrushka’s inner world.  It also needs the ongoing sense of dread that builds as you watch the ballet.  And you also miss the amazing curtain between acts, and the drum.

But really, without putting the second act in context, I don’t think viewers unfamiliar with the ballet would understand what was happening at all.  Petrushka’s emotions in this scene are outsized, and we need to understand why this is so.

I am sure, though, that this act shouldn’t be performed without a set, as it was here.  The choreography doesn’t work without it: we see Petrushka searching for a way out of his room, but the way it was presented here, there weren’t any walls keeping him in.  And we see Petrushka reacting to the portrait of the magician, but there’s no portrait.  The ballet needs the stern, scowling face of the magician, impassive to Petrushka’s pitiful cries.  Plus, at the end of the scene, he’s meant to break through the wall, but again, there weren’t any walls.  This all was strange enough for me (someone who knows the ballet very well) to witness, so it must have been incredibly confusing for those in the audience not familiar with the ballet.

I know there are several versions of this floating around now (after these hundred years, ha), but parts of the choreography seemed off to me.  We didn’t, for instance, get those three heart-wrenching jumps Petrushka does toward the Ballerina, which end with the door slamming shut in his face.

Also. . . the makeup used for Petrushka wasn’t enough.  He should look like a broken toy.  I know this was a gala-style performance, but there was some makeup, so why not do it properly?

I thought Ivan Putrov’s performance was a bit disappointing.  A lot of this role is in the movement style, which is so different from most other ballets: Petrushka needs to move like a puppet who’s not completely in control of his body.  This role has a lot of pitfalls and one common one that I’ve seen is that sometimes dancers can’t completely stifle years and years of training to move beautifully with a beautiful line.  Putrov does indeed move beautifully, but that shining Royal Ballet style at times crept into his movements as Petrushka here, which it shouldn’t.

I think a performance of Petrushka succeeds if it’s so painful to watch that it makes you want to claw your eyes out so you don’t have to see it anymore.  This performance wasn’t like that (although I was fortunate enough to see a performance that was last summer).

I did, though, like the brief appearance by Elena Glurdjidze as the Ballerina.  She seemed perfect.

And I also appreciated that Putrov stayed in character for the curtain call.  I don’t like it when someone dances something terribly sad, and then 5 seconds later at the curtain call is all smiles.  At least give it till the second or third bow before breaking the moment, please.

Swan / Choreography: Poklitaru / Performed by: Yonah Acosta

Yonah Acosta is a great dancer, and I was really pleased to see him here.  I liked how the choreography was presented as a seized-upon moment of self-expression before a return to everyday life.

Proust / Choreography: Petit / Performed by: Marian Walter, Rainer Krenstetter

I’m not familiar with this ballet, but I liked this so I’ll have to look into it.  And I thought both dancers were excellent.

Le Spectre de la Rose / Choreography: Fokine / Performed by: Vadim Muntagirov, Elena Glurdjidze

This was the one I was looking forward to the most—I’ve never seen it live, outside of Neumeier’s Nijinsky, although I’ve seen loads of videos—and when I saw that Muntagirov would be dancing the role of the Spectre, I couldn’t wait to see it.

And it was so good—it was my favorite part of the night.  I think there are quite a few good Spectres around, but very few great ones.  And Muntagirov is an outstanding one.  His beautiful arms were perfect here, drifting up above his head as petals.  The beginnings of a smile appeared upon his face as he enticed the Girl (Elena Glurdjidze again) up out of her chair.  He was wonderfully lithe, graceful yet strong, dreamily intoxicating.

I’ve seen hyper-masculine portrayals of this role, attempting to counterbalance the pink costume with athletic leaps, and I don’t think that’s the right tone for this role.  Yes, the jumps are significant, but they should flow from the interpretation of the role rather than being an excuse for showboating.  The Rose should be androgynous, but really should be neither male nor female but some other category entirely, something unearthly.  Muntagirov was perfect.  (And to be perfect in a Nijinsky ballet means you’ve won my loyalty forever.)

I was pleased, too, that they had an actual set for this, with windows for him to enter and exit through: it just seems sad when the Spectre has to leap (or worse, run) offstage because there’s nothing there.

And the costumes for this also eliminated both characters’ caps (Muntagirov had a lovely string of flowers in his lovely hair, though), which is fine with me because I’ve noticed that in a lot of productions the caps just look awful.

Who Cares? / Choreography: Balanchine / Performed by: Valentino Zucchetti

 Absolutely charming and wonderful.  I would like to see this ballet someday.

TWO x TWO / Choreography: Maliphant / Performed by: Daniel Proietto, Ivan Putrov

Unfortunately, I found this really boring.  The music was boring; the choreography was boring.  Both dancers were good, but there just wasn’t much there.

So in conclusion: although there were a few missteps, I really enjoyed the program.  I left feeling inspired and wanting more: I tend to stick with what I know I’ll like in ballet, and seeing different dancers and different choreography has really made me want to explore a bit.  I’ll be looking into this some more this year for sure.

I’m only disappointed that this was only playing for two nights as I’d love to see it again!  Here’s hoping for another installment very soon.


2 thoughts on “Men in Motion – London Coliseum – 30 January 2014

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