Royalty Made Common
Author: ROBERT GRESKOVIC
Date: February 29, 2012
Publisher: The Wall Street Journal
The first was a poster outside City Center showing six of today's most prominent male ballet dancers, five of whom perform in "Opus 3" at any one engagement. Though they're attired in the dull, casual clothes that Igor Chapurin designed for "Jazzy Five," the program's opening number, there's one charming exception: The men, posed in an interior, are without their boring black slippers—and all seem, as ballet dancers are wont to be, mightily proud of their bare, near-prehensile feet. Some are formidably taut and pointed, including those of American Ballet Theatre's Marcelo Gomes and National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Côté. (But the poster's most notable feet belong to Leonid Sarafanov, the marvelously gifted Mikhailovsky Ballet dancer who, after playing the Moscow and St. Petersburg stops on the "Kings" circuit, missed the New York installment because of other commitments.)
The other rewarding aspect—in keeping with the promotion of these dancers as memorable personalities and performers—came after the program's seven numbers ended and the beaming men stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, variously linking hands and arms during their curtain calls. In full stage light and left to their own devices, the five men were revealed as distinct individuals, full of the radiance and charisma so often derailed by the dances made for "Opus 3."
Most off-putting and deadly was the show's "Jazzy" opener, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti to some lame and lugubrious jazz-tinged music by Federico Bigonzetti, the choreographer's son, and grimly performed to a recording by Jazzy Dogs. Mr. Bigonzetti's choreographic invention was fixed on busy, arbitrary, relentless tangles, flicks and flutters for the men's arms and hands. In a recurring bit of business, one dancer's index finger pointed or poked at another dancer. (Think of the Pillsbury Dough Boy or, perhaps, the Three Stooges.) It seemed meant to be cute but often looked creepy.
From 'KO'd,' featuring, from left: Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Guillaume Côté, Denis Matvienko and Ivan Vasiliev.
The program's five solo numbers were commissioned by "Kings" based on the individual choices of the dancers involved. These included, besides Messrs. Côté and Gomes, American Ballet Theatre's and the Bolshoi Ballet's David Hallberg, Mariinsky Ballet's Denis Matvienko (in the Sarafanov slot) and Mikhailovsky Ballet's Ivan Vasiliev. Alas, it's hard to imagine that audience members who attended the show found any of these showcases even remotely worthy of the five dancers' gifts.
"Kaburias" by Nacho Duato (a Kabuki-influenced work to Leo Brouwer's flamencoesque music) showed Mr. Hallberg bare-chested and aswirl, to little clear effect, in a ruffle-hemmed black skirt that was initially arranged to look like gaucho pants.
"Tue" by Marco Goecke (to French songs by Barbara) was aflutter with hand-jive and did the handsome Canadian no favors—especially given Tony Marques's lighting, which made the dancer's smooth torso look especially flabby at the waistline.
In Mr. Gomes's showcase, Jorma Elo's awkwardly titled "Still of King," the dancer looked ballet-classical in uncredited costuming of cream tights and crepe-de-chine "Romantic" shirt, but the classic costume design turned out to be a gag for the choreographer. Mr. Elo sent Mr. Gomes on a fidgety tear, with a selection of Franz Joseph Haydn cuing the dancemaker's Mickey Mouse-timed tics.
Patrick De Bana's "Labyrinth of Solitude," for a bare-chested Mr. Vasiliev, used the "Ciaconne" attributed to Tomaso Antonio Vitali to underpin a vignette for the intense, short-statured Russian that intermittently launched him into applause-winning spins and jumps meant, perhaps, to show the agony of art.
Edward Clug's "Guilty" (to a Chopin Nocturne) amounted to an innocuous, improvisationlike foray for Mr. Matvienko, clad in a black shirt and pants. It eventually left the lean Russian sitting on the floor as he placed one leg over the other, as if the former were paralyzed.
The final number, "KO'd," by Mr. Gomes to a pretty piano sonata composed by Mr. Côté, led into the show's sweet-tempered curtain calls for the full quintet of Kings, here costumed in uncredited loose, long-sleeved black T-shirts and footless pale-gray tights. Mr. Gomes's choreography played out as a classroom-style frolic for all the men, and remained breezy but hardly memorable. But at least, in this one instance, the dancing men were spared not only inane attempts at eccentricity but moves that betrayed an ignorance of ballet's inherent finesse and expressivity. "KO'd," with a winking nod in its name, if not in its inner workings, to both the program's theme and the world of prize fighting, also offered the bill's only bit of live music. For a brief moment its dancer-composer was shown at the piano playing a bit of his composition.
"Kings of the Dance" began in 2006, and this third version has a few more stops outside the U.S. on its calendar. With luck, any potential fourth round will have learned from "Opus 3" that it is not really a good idea to let the individual dancers have their way when choosing new solos. In the current production, their way was essentially no way.