Kings of the Dance live up to their lofty title
Author: PAUL HODGINS
Date: October 22, 2011
Publisher: THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
"Kings of the Dance 2011," one of the highlights of the Segerstrom Center's 25th-anniversary season, is a guilty pleasure. Since its inception in 2006, this evening of bravura dancing has celebrated the beauty, power and sheer kinesthetic thrill of male bodies in motion – sometimes at the expense of other elements.
Its first incarnation featured four of ballet's best men performing a mix of newly choreographed work and established repertoire.
Its latest version, which toured Russia recently and plays the Segerstrom Center this weekend before winding up in New York early next year, features a new generation of dancers as well as a distinctly different feel.
All of the work on the program was created expressly for the five ballet superstars who dance it: Guillaume Coté from the National Ballet of Canada, Marcelo Gomes of American Ballet Theatre, David Hallberg, who last month left ABT for the Bolshoi Ballet, Denis Matvienko from the Mariinsky Ballet and the Bolshoi's Ivan Vasiliev.
For the five solos that constitute the central part of the program, each dancer was allowed to choose a choreographer to come up with something just for him. The show is framed by two group pieces also created for this talented team, Mauro Bigonzetti's lighthearted "Jazzy Five" and a show-capping choreography by Gomes called "KO'd," for which Coté composed the score.
Although the dancers chose choreographers with highly distinctive styles, the solos revealed surprising similarities. For the most part, when left to their whims and desires, these technically endowed superstars gravitated toward movement that was internalized, quirky and quite cryptic. Furtive, rapid movements of the hands, arms and head took precedence over grand, ground-covering leaps, spins and other athletic feats that are the lingua franca of male solo dancing.
Nacho Duato's "Kaburias," performed by Hallberg to Leo Brouwer's stringent and rhythmic composition for solo guitar, is dominated by energetic, birdlike movements and odd shapes formed by a long black pleated kilt. Hallberg sometimes uses it to cover his head; occasionally he clenches the fabric in his teeth. The shapes he makes with his voluminous costume and the strained, pose-heavy movement bring Martha Graham to mind.
Coté's "Tue" is filled with similarly constricted, neurotic movement. Choreographer Marco Goecke found an effective movement vocabulary for the French-Canadian dancer that's distinguished by fluttering hands and skyward-looking poses. Set to two pensive French songs of love and loss and punctuated by a long silence between them, "Tue" is too long and courts with self-indulgence but it's undeniably haunting.
Gomes' work, "Still of King," is a curiosity. It looks like a highly stylized court dance with invisible partners. Choreographer Jorma Elo inserts some comic bits – Gomes breaks the fourth wall from time to time and outlines a shapely female figure at one point – but the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Matvienko's "Guilty" is a pensive work by choreographer Edward Clug set to a Chopin nocturne. He's an expressive and mesmerizing soloist, but the work is simple, often pedestrian, and too brief, leaving you with the feeling that his powers are largely untapped.
Any gripes about self-indulgence and stylistic sameness were wiped away by Vasiliev's performance in "Labyrinth of Solitude." Set to a famous chaconne by Antonio Vitali, Patrick De Bana's choreography unleashes the Russian's undeniable virtuosity in a series of energetic, stage spanning outbursts. The crowd's roar of approval said it all: This is what we've been waiting for!
Those who saw Vasiliev's scintillating performance with Natalia Osipova in the Bolshoi's "Don Quixote" at the Segerstrom in 2010 know what he's capable of. He's a danseur noble in the Nureyev tradition: hugely expressive, viscerally exciting, seeming to push his considerable technique to its very limit to achieve the dramatic effects the music and choreography demand. (It's almost cruel not to feature Vasiliev last – his bring-the-house-down performance was followed by Matvienko's quiet work. I'd reverse the order of the two.)
The group works are appetizer and dessert.
Bigonzetti's "Jazzy Five" is a breezy, sometimes silly exploration of each dancer's personality, accompanied by a moody rock-infused score composed by his son, Federico.
Gomes' "KO'd" serves a similar purpose. Dressed identically in black tops and white leotards, the five stars serve up a variety of shapes and spatial relationships to a score by Coté (he even leaves the group briefly to play part of it on the piano, the showoff). It's enjoyable but inconsequential.
"Kings of the Dance" isn't an evening of deep, life-changing dance. Its choreography, while serviceable, isn't going to join the continuum of ballet classics.
But it achieves its goal with admirable flair. Producer Sergei Danilian, who helped bring "Reflections" to the Segerstrom Center in January, has been assembling superstar dance extravaganzas for quite a while, and besides his talent for finding time in busy company schedules to create such a show, he knows what audiences expect: a little spectacle, a dollop of sex appeal, some peerless athleticism, and the feeling that you've seen an all-star team do something special.
This year you get a bonus: Vasiliev, the king of kings. See him now while he's at the peak of his powers.