Ivan Putrov Men in Motion

Sadler’s Wells

From 27 January 2012 to 29 January 2012

Review by Vera Liber

News of rising star Sergei Polunin’s inexplicable escape from the Royal Ballet has been in the media for days, and almost eclipsed the premiere of Ivan Putrov’s evening dedicated to the male dancer. Would Polunin honour his commitment to perform?

Well, he did, and performed impeccably in Narcisse, a solo by Soviet choreographer Kasian Goleizovsky to Nikolai Tcherepnin’s Narcisse, but he did not steal the limelight. Silently, modestly, that was left to Daniel Proietto in Russell Maliphant's fifteen-minute solo, AfterLight (Part One), to Satie’s melancholy meditative Gnossiennes.

An intelligent organic synthesis of music, movement and light… I have seen this piece three times to date, and its peculiar magic, something which on the whole the evening lacks, still charms and excites.

Under optical illusion lighting by Michael Hulls, Proietto twists and turns, lost in reverie, limbs and torso in contra-flowing motion, a sycamore pod in the wind, a mote caught by a moonbeam for all time, until it dissolves into the ground. The highlight of an evening that could have been so much more…

Maybe it will be a lesson in hubris, though one doubts it—the roar of recognition and approval can go to a young man’s head—especially on a press night full of glitterati from all corners of the arts and celebrity worlds. Polunin and Putrov, both former Royal Ballet Principals, are flying the nest too soon.

If Putrov is the liberating example, then Polunin would have been wise to stay a little longer at the Royal Ballet, and get the big roles under his belt before selling himself to the highest bidder. Sometimes it’s best not to get what one wishes for. Where’s the Lilac Fairy when one needs her?

Putrov styling himself ‘dancer, producer and choreographer’, may have bitten off too much. The intention was to present ‘an evening of works exploring the beauty of the male form in motion’, the shape of the programme to include old and new. But as with the best-laid plans, last minute restructuring was necessary.

Two of his Russian dancers, Semen Chudin and Andrei Merkuriev, failed to show due to visa problems. Putrov was to have performed with them in the scheduled Remanso trio for three men by Nacho Duato (new artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet), which had to be cancelled. Seven numbers were ultimately reduced to five.

First out of the stocks was Fokine’s legendary 1911 Le Spectre de la Rose to Weber’s Invitation to the Dance for the 21-year-old Vaslav Nijinsky. Former Mariinsky Ballet Principal, Igor Kolb, stepped into his dusky pink footsteps. But liquid arms, flamboyant wrists, and silent leaps failed to stir the blood. Elena Glurdjidze from the English National Ballet was the dreaming girl, who rises on tiptoes to dance briefly with her dream.

Bare-chested, in flesh-coloured tights, not a tattoo visible under the pancake, Polunin followed in Goleizovsky’s bravura Narcisse, basking finally in the bright spotlight (how appropriate) of his own glorious silhouette. A beautiful graceful faun, captivated and captive, character and physicality in perfect unison…

Not seen in Britain for over 30 years, since Ashton re-choreographed it for Anthony Dowell in 1978, Dance of the Blessed Spirits to music by Gluck, is danced by Putrov, coached by Dowell. A sorrowing Orpheus, bare-chested in white tights with golden belt (it’s an evening of bare male chests and coloured tights), has minimal choreography—more a case of emoting and posing delicately. Putrov carries it off with stage presence.

This he exploits in his new choreographic work Ithaka, based on Cavafy's 1911 poem describing a mythical journey—lots of standing still and looking into the distance to music from La Péri, Paul Dukas’s sumptuous 1912 poème dansé.

Joined by late substitute Aaron Sillis, and Elena Glurdjidze, it’s a journey of sexual discovery. Must he choose between the virile male and the siren? Is he the innocent Pierrot, of Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire, caught between Brighella and Columbine?

Production values are high. Many illustrious people are thanked in the programme booklet—to name but a couple out of a long list, Sam Taylor Wood for photography, and artist Gary Hume for the set design of Ithaka, which closed the evening. For all that, the evening is sketchy and slender. As spectral as the overarching subject matter...

And, apart from crediting Philip Gammon as guest pianist for Narcisse, and Richard Bernas as conductor of the Music Projects Orchestra, there is no credit for any of the accompanying music, an odd omission.

Ithaka, the poet Cafavy tells us, ‘has given you the beautiful voyage’, and Ivan Putrov confesses, “so it is for me. Choreographing has given me a beautiful voyage. What it finally amounts to is for others to decide.”  A brave man, throwing himself and his vanity project on the mercy of the savage seas…