Kings of the Dance

Kings of the Dance review – 'Descends into a vanity project'
Author: Judith Mackrell
Date: March 20, 2014
Publisher: The Guardian

Kings of the Dance
Design trumps dance … Ivan Vasiliev performs Le Jeune Homme et la Mort in Kings of the Dance.
Photo ©Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

There may be sufficient talent and testosterone on stage for this all-star ensemble to justify crowning themselves kings of their profession. But what is lacking at the court of Vasiliev, Bolle et al, are the virtues of taste and discrimination – and some properly first-rate choreography.

The programme begins well enough with two predictable but watchable items. Nacho Duato's piece plays slick and antic games with ballet style. On this occasion, it's elevated to something more by the supremely musical and stylish Leonid Sarafanov (for me, the unassuming star of the ensemble), who phrases his dizzy, jestering moves as if they were seriously interesting dance.

Roland Petit's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is a ballet more justified by its design than its choreography. But it's an intriguing vehicle for Ivan Vasiliev as he channels his massive strength into the thrashing, twisting drama of a young man's existential crisis. There's a disappointing lack of sexual chemistry between him and his nemesis (Svetlana Lunkina, the sole woman of the evening). But Lunkina's witchy stare, the flickering staccato of her dancing, perfectly capture the eerie influences of ETA Hoffmann and the grotesque in Petit's drama of death.

So far, so entertaining. But in the concluding assortment of five short pieces, the evening descends into vanity project. The most egregiously narcissistic of them all is Prototype, a solo in which Roberto Bolle dances with video footage of himself, and tumbles headlong into his own ego. Labyrinth of Solitude sees Vasiliev's mighty talent trapped inside the whining angst of Patrick de Bana's choreography. And while Marcelo Gomes' KO'd is a fun finale, showing the Kings relaxing in larkily competitive style, we had to love these performers more to really engage with its spirit.