Review: Men In Motion (where I forget to breathe).

Written for Exeunt

Former Principal Royal Ballet dancer Ivan Putrov has pulled together a constellation of stars for his first foray into producing: Men In Motion. Following in the footsteps of Nijinsky and Diaghilev, Putrov is seeking to make the audience see beyond the supremacy of the ballerina. In ballet men have had to play second fiddle for too long it seems: there’s more to life than being a Prince and Putrov’s going to prove it.

In an elegant nod to the first time Nijinsky broke into the public’s imagination, Putrov’s first piece is Le Spectre de la Rose. From Igor Kolb’s initial leap through the window dressed in dusky pink, gender lines are blurred. Kolb’s athletic frame belies the flicks and flutters of his hands. He flirts both with his co-star (a supportive Elena Glurdjidze) and the audience, caressing us with his eyes as his feet delicately sweep the floor. But, despite this, there’s a sense of disconnect and Kolb’s performance, though technically superb, leaves me feeling strangely nonplussed.

That all changes when Sergei Polunin begins to dance. It’s fair to say that this star’s recent shocking departure from the Royal Ballet has added an extra frisson to the prospect of seeing him perform tonight, but he lives up to even these inflated expectations. As he leaps through the air time seems to slow down and, when he lands, my heart is in my mouth. Polunin’s skill and grace echoes Kolb’s but, as the nymph Narcisse, the emotional engagement is far stronger. This connection adds an electric air to his every movement; the audience  are hooked and as he leaves the stage the space seems to crackle in his wake.

If Polunin’s performance was all heat and flame, Putrov’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits (the plural being a slight misnomer here as due to visa issues, tonight there is only one) is cooling and soothing.  His fluidity and lightness of touch particularly resonates. His leaps cut through the air with an impish delicacy that is delightful and oddly feminine.

Argentine boy wonder Daniel Proietto hypnotises next in Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight (Part One).  He falls through lighting designer Michael Hulls’ stunningly projected inky sky. Turning slowly on the spot, images of birds swooping and falling are interspersed with visions of music-box ballerinas. Again the lines between masculine and feminine are blurred. His exploration moves from the horizontal to vertical as gravity pulls him downwards and Hull’s ink blots form an interactive environment on the floor for Proietto to dance with. His twists and turns are masterfully executed, combining technical brilliance with effortless elegance of expression. It’s only when Proietto arches into his final pose that you finally remember to breathe.

The final piece is Ithaka, a new work choreographed by Putrov and danced with admirable spirit by Glurdjidze and Aaron Sillis. Based on the poem by C.P Cavafy it tells the story of a voyage and is the result of a rather dreamy collaboration with artist Gary Hume who has created the set. Clean lines and acid lemon and lime costumes set the tone for a piece which is sadly a bit of a lemon itself, though lacking in sharpness. Putrov’s choreography is simply an extension of holds, poses and shapes. His movements feel arbitrary, his moments of stillness feel accidental. It’s a rather tepid finale but it doesn’t detract from a programme which has brilliantly showcased the visceral and romantic power of men in motion.

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