Tag Archives: Jorma Elo

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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Homage à Mr. Balanchine

Next season, The Royal Ballet will once again dance Balanchine’s Ballo Della Regina, an 18-minute whirlwind of virtuosity. The ballerina role is probably one of the hardest in the entire repertoire, and to be approached with grit and determination. The steps for the rest of the ensemble aren’t the easiest either. The score is a divertimento from Verdi’s Don Carlo – this exemplifies one of Balanchine’s talents; mining the classical repertoire for passages that spoke to him, that he could assemble dances to.

Since Balanchine’s demise in 1983, his works have been carefully looked after by the Balanchine Trust. Merrill Ashley has looked after Ballo; apt, as the ballerina role was created on her, and she has overseen its various stagings. The Balanchine bloodline is transmitted through her to the dancers she teaches, every nuance being generously handed down. His ballets are notoriously difficult; they are, for the most part, purely steps, and their impact depends on the choreography being performed with precision and clarity. They are the archetypal abstract ballets and represent a hugely important gateway from his classical past.

In and of themselves, the Balanchine repertoire is one of the most important bodies of 20th century choreography; it represents the birth of neoclassical ballet and it’s resultant development and his work was the launching pad for most ballet choreographers since. The direct effect of his work is obvious in those who worked directly with him or his company (New York City Ballet), for example Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Christopher Wheeldon and Benjamin Millepied. Looking further afield, his work is felt in the more contemporary ballets of Jorma Elo and Alexei Ratmansky. Even in those choreographers where there is no discernible link to Balanchine’s work, we can thank him for setting the journey of ballet on a new course, opening up a mine of opportunity for those wishing to express their choreographic identities through non-narrative work.

So the next time you see a ballet that has been choreographed sometime since the middle of the last century, give a nod to Mr. Balanchine, somewhere along the line he probably had something to do with it.

Diarmaid O’Meara

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