Kings of the Dance

Kings of the Dance, London Coliseum, March 2014
Author: Mark Ronan
Date: March 20, 2014
Publisher: Mark Ronan

Kings of the Dance
Vasiliev as le jeune homme
© Damir Yusupov

This feast of male dancing, brought to the London Coliseum by impresario Sergei Danilian, is carried off by five of the World’s finest, including the extraordinary Ivan Vasiliev. His solo performance in Labyrinth of Solitude, with fabulous leaps and spins in the air, inspired a standing ovation, and was immediately followed by the evening’s finale, KO’D for all five dancers, with Vasiliev reappearing in a fresh costume within seconds. Extraordinary.

Thus ended the eclectic Act III, almost a mixed bill in itself with its five ballets, starting with Massimiliano Volpini’s intriguing Prototype performed by Roberto Bolle. With its clever use of video projections this takes us from the basic positions and movements of classical ballet to the classics themselves, and Bolle’s flawless technique and superb stage presence does the rest. Yet this was just a precursor to one of the finest male pas-de-deux in the ballet repertoire, that for Morel and Saint-Loup from Act II of Roland Petit’s two-act ballet Proust. Danced in flesh-coloured leotards the glorious performance by Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes, reminded me of the huge physicality celebrated in ancient Greece, and they might almost have been athletic characters from a Greek vase suddenly come to life. Light relief came with Vestris, named after famous eighteenth century dancers Gaeton and Auguste Vestris, and wittily performed by Leonid Safaranov, before the final two items brought the evening to a close.

Yet Act III was not the whole evening, which started in Act I with the delightful Remanso by Spanish choreographer and designer Nacho Duato. Featuring Leonid Sarafanov, Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes, along with a single rose and a square, blank wall that changes colour from black to green to yellow, interspersed by a plain buff, this has a charm and gentleness reflected in the music, the Valse Poeticos for solo piano by Granados. At fifteen minutes long it was a fine audience warm-up before the intense drama of Le jeune homme et la mort in Act II.

This central section of the evening is the only item to have two separate casts, both featuring Svetlana Lunkina as the deadly young woman in her yellow dress, and later her death mask, giving the young man a combination of spider-like embrace and utter indifference. Petit’s extraordinary 1946 work, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau, formed an electrifying collaboration in post-Liberation Paris, and they only settled on the music — Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor — at the dress rehearsal!

On opening night it was Ivan Vasiliev as the young man, his body so firmly rooted to the ground, so strong in position, yet so frustratingly in need of love and affection. His superb technique and athleticism enables him to fly through the air horizontally, but is all directed towards the way he represents the role, with huge feeling, desire and desperately suppressed emotion. The manipulative girl drives him to death, and his apotheosis suddenly recalls the world outside that he has left behind. A terrific performance by Vasiliev and my only reservation is the recorded music, which does not allow the ballet to breath in the way a conductor would.

But an evening of seven ballets, skilfully assembled in this well-contrasted order and danced by some of the finest male talent today, is not to be missed.