Kings of the Dance - London Coliseum
Author: Luke Jennings
Date: March 22, 2014
Publisher: The Guardian
‘Charisma’: Ivan Vasiliev in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Observer
Sergei Danilian is a New York-based impresario and agent who has mounted a series of high-profile tours featuring his own dancer and choreographer clients. Kings of the Dance is one such package, and demonstrates the advantages and disadvantages of the concept. On the plus side are the "kings" themselves: five stylish and very likable performers. On the minus side, and it's a big minus, is the choreography.
We kick off with Remanso, a winsome slice of late 1990s Euro-kitsch by Nacho Duato. Leonid Sarafanov, Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes give it their best shot, but are unable to endow the piece with wit or significance. Ivan Vasiliev does better with the late Roland Petit's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (1946), set to a Bach chaconne. With his silent-film charisma and blazing, histrionic style, Vasiliev is the perfect interpreter of Petit's overwrought existential fable. Goaded beyond endurance by Svetlana Lunkina's sly femme fatale, he hurls himself around the stage bare-chested, like a wounded animal. There have been occasions when Vasiliev's airborne displays, while spectacular, have appeared unhooked from character or plot. Here, they fold seamlessly into the role.
But Vasiliev undercuts himself when he appears, once again bare-chested, in Patrick de Bana's Labyrinth of Solitude. The piece is every bit as overblown as its title suggests. Vasiliev dashes hither and thither, eyes rolling wildly, either in the grip of severe indigestion or some profound angst at whose cause we can only guess. Whatever the issue, it doesn't prevent him suddenly dashing off a high-speed manège of grand jetés, prompting an ecstatic ovation from the jewelled matrons for whom the 25-year-old Russian can do no wrong.
Morel et Saint-Loup is extracted from Petit's 1974 ballet Proust ou les intermittences du coeur, and concerns two characters from À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Morel (Matvienko) is a homosexual libertine, Saint-Loup (Gomes) is married but bisexual, and persistently unfaithful to his wife. Their affair is presented by Petit as a thing of lingering glances and anguished man-on-man gymnastics. The dancers writhe, emote, and pace to the Fauré score with every appearance of sincerity, but the work is inescapably dated and more than a little coy.
There's a change of pace when Sarafanov performs Leonid Jacobson's Vestris, created for Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1969 as a competition piece. Sarafanov is an excellent dancer but his portrait of the 18th century dance maestro is too fey, and the period details elude him.
Roberto Bollé is a principal dancer at La Scala and an internationally successful male model with the Ford agency. It cannot be easy to be Italy's most perfectly sculpted man, but Bollé accepts his destiny philosophically. In Prototype, by Massimiliano Volpini, he performs basic classroom steps against a projection of retro-style graphics and close-ups of his own musculature. He then fences against a computer-animated version of himself before accompanying multiple Roberto Bollés in a final dance number. Even the most ardent Bollé enthusiast (they call themselves "Bollerini") would concede that this is a somewhat narcissistic work, revealing little of the heart that beats beneath those rippling pectorals. The programme closes with Gomes's KO'D, a cheerful wrap-up piece which reunites all five dancers. But it's been a thin evening, and the choreographic choices indicate a dismaying lack of discrimination on the part of all concerned.