Monthly Archives: March 2012

Men in Motion 2

Men in Motion

Sadlers Wells Theatre, London

15 March, 2012

After the first instalment, Ivan Putrov’s second Men in Motion was, unofficially, to be a vehicle for man-of-the-moment Sergei Polunin: this didn’t prove to be the case. Although he did have more solo stage time than any of the other dancers, Polunin’s presence was not the high point of the evening.

L’Apres Midi d’Un Faune is one of those iconic works that should almost be left alone, steeped in its rich history. If these works are to be tackled it should be under very special circumstances, and I don’t feel Polunin approached this with the requisite reverence. He executed the steps with his customary beauty, but he failed to fully inhabit the role. His second solo, Narcisse, with choreography by Kasian Goleizovsky, was an entirely different affair. Yes, he was panting on stage (as some critics were happy to condemn), but I have no issue with a dancer showing their effort. The choreography was pure and it was danced with a serene clarity that very few dancers can manage; it was this point that made me worry for Polunin’s future and ask myself how long he can maintain this quality of dancing outside the structure of a company.

The success of an evening of dance like this depends on the structure of the programme. There must be a coherent thread running from start to finish: it is too easy to throw several variations and pas de deux on stage and let the audience wade through them, but for an offering like this to carry a message takes far more sensitivity. This sensitivity was evident in the first half of the programme. With a version of Dying Swan (not the best interpretation I’ve seen, but nonetheless danced with integrity by Andrew Bowman), L’Apres Midi d’Un Faune and Vestris – an homage both to August Vestris and its creator Baryshnikov danced with humour and reverence by Putrov – right up to Round About Tim, a tastefully derivative classical rendition by Jorma Elo and performed by Tim Matiakis, there was a reconstruction of the ballet time-line, reaching back almost to its very foundations: this was both clever and full of respect on Putrov’s part.

The second act was a different story. Russell Maliphant’s Two x Two could have been guilty of being standard Maliphant fare with very recognisable lighting and costume, but the quality of the work says otherwise. Dancers Dana Fouras and Jesse Kovarsky gave an outstanding account of the choreographers vocabulary.  Nacho Duato’s Remanso was the highlight of the evening for me – Putrov, along with Isaac Montllor and the sublime Clyde Archer were flawless in this blissfully un-self-aware piece: it doesn’t need to push the “we might be dancing but we’re men”, instead it allows the dancers to be tender and romantic, in a way furthering their masculinity – in a programme about male dancing, this was the pinnacle.

Had this been the entire programme, there would have been a balanced and tangible journey or sorts. However, the final Polunin number, jointly choregraphed by himself and Valentino Zucchetti, was all wrong. For a renegade like Sergei, I can see the obvious attraction of an icon such as James Dean, but classical ballet simply isn’t the right medium for expressing it. The piece has the feeling of a last-minute finish to it which doesn’t help its cause, and there’s something very trite about expressing despair with standard ballet vocabulary. Polunin is certainly worthy of a better vehicle – there’s a lot to be said for self-expression, as much as to be said for playing to one’s strenghts.

This time around Putrov just about got the programme right, but with future installments of the Men in Motion idea, given his huge knowledge and love of dance, I think he could really hit the nail on the head: it is a wonderful platform for some very interesting, and otherwise rarely seen choregraphy.

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ENB Emerging Dancer: What Is It Really About?

Having attended English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer competition earlier this week, I’ve been mulling over the role of competitions within companies, and more importantly the implications of the results.

In-house competitions between dancers isn’t a new phenomenon: Paris Ópera Ballet have used this method as a means for promotion longer than most other companies have been in existence. When there’s no such prize at stake, a competition just for the sake of it seems pointless. It could be argued that it is a showcase of the young talent within the company ranks, or that it is a safe forum for the dancers to gain experience dancing solos. If the company is willing to have their dancers perform in front of a paying audience, dancing principal and soloist variations, surely they should just use them in actual ballet performances – where they have the support of the rest of the company, and they are delivering a variation in the context it was intended to be delivered, not just against a black back-drop. Many of the dancers that were taking part here have already been exposed to big occasions; Ksenia Ovsyanick and Junor de Souza having made their Giselle debuts 2 years ago.

The fact that the purpose of the competition is a mystery to me isn’t the nagging issue: choosing a winner is a huge endorsement of the victorious dancer, and no matter how many times the judges mention how difficult it was to come to a consensus, singleing a dancer out as the best is a strong statement of how people will look at the company and ballet as a whole.

Yonah Acosta was announced the winner on this occasion (he also won the audience award) for his renditions of Basilio’s variation from Don Quixote and the variation from Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. Not to take anything away from this extremely talented young man – his dancing was exciting and technically proficient – but given that one of the judges, David Wall, prefaced the announcement of the result by saying that dancing isn’t about pyrotechnics, but about baring your soul on stage, completely went against their decision. I’m sure Acosta is no one-trick-pony, but both his solos are famous for their pyrotechnics.

Other dancers gave a much broader account of themselves – showing both classical and contemporary technique. Nancy Osbaldeston stood out for me: although in her Paquita variation she had a slight technical hitch, she exuded regality and a reverence for classicism – this was then balanced out by a jazzy solo, choreographed by herself, which had every step in the book in it, but which didn’t get in the way of it being a vehicle for her ebullient personality. Ovsyanick and Barry Drummond both showed diverse repertoire, delivered with assurance and moments of brilliance.

As an evening of dance, I enjoyed seeing some dancers I hadn’t seen much of previously, and some repertoire which is hard to come by. I did leave feeling short-changed though, as I felt the work of the other dancers went under-credited. Explosive performers like Acosta will always have their place on the stage, but I think if ballet is to avoid going further down the road of the circus act, companies like English National Ballet don’t need to stop endorsing the pyrotechnical dancer, but start embracing those with other talents too.

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