As I came to ballet later in life, I grew up with a vague concept of ballet, like the popular misconception that it is all pink frothy tutus, ballerinas supported by effete men who, like at a wedding, are there to just make women look pretty. Not realising that male ballet dancers are heroic in their own right, they are the equal of, if not stronger than, Olympic athletes with the grace and musicality on top. So, when I heard that the ‘Kings of the Dance’ were coming to London for the first time, I knew this would be worth making the journey over to see, especially as one, R Bolle had been announced. Roberto is one of my favourite male dancers whom I had not had the chance of seeing live in the UK, the first time round. Marcelo Gomes, American Ballet Theatre had already been announced and has been a feature of the Kings of the Dance programming for a few years as dancer and choreographer. Marcelo brought his South American charm to the Royal Ballet as a Guest Artist for a brief time, not so long ago. Probably what for most, would have been the star attraction was announced last, as Ivan Vasiliev, star of the Bolshoi and now with ABT as well but guesting around the world and has been seen on various stages in London recently with the Bolshoi and other Russian companies. The billing was completed with two lesser-known dancers as they dance mainly in Russia, Denis Matvienko of the Mariinsky and Leonid Sarafanov of the Mikhailovsky Ballet Company. This also shows how ballet and the arts can bring diverse peoples together, never mind what the political situation is, as this billing featured Russians and a Ukrainian dancing in harmony.
The night began with the light-hearted, Remanso by Nacho Duato, one of the many choreographers of the night that I have only heard of on the pages of ballet magazines or on Sky Arts as it is usually only the classics that tour to Belfast. Remanso was danced by Matvienko, Sarafanov and Gomes and was a light appetiser, a firmly modern piece with some lovely classical lines but with the jarring right-angles that place it firmly in the modern era. The stage was adorned with a very stark, white wall that had various colours projected onto it and the wall was used for the dancers to climb over, dangle off and create comedy with hands, arms and legs poking round and over. It was nice to see the dancers dance in harmony and to use the full length of their bodies but it was over in a very short space of time with the curtain coming down for the first interval. After the first interval, Vasiliev took to the stage to dance a popular work that Vasiliev and the London audiences are quite familiar with, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. Maybe if you have seen this work before, some of the lustre may have gone off it but this was the first time that I’d seen it and as I’m rather taken with the idea of big, overblown emotions and artists starving in French garrets for the love of art, I quite enjoyed this and found the work quite powerful. The only female role of the evening was of the inconstant lover turned torturer, played by Svetlana Lunkina, in a sunrise yellow dress but touches of the sinister in black gloves and matching black, be-wigged bob. Both Russian dancers have beautiful lines and many fireworks which is what Vasiliev is mostly known for. You can certainly feel and witness his frustrations but whether you feel this exuberant personality who seems to fight for life would be so easily tempted into taking their own life, I am not so sure, this probably called for a more tortured, down to earth, soul. It would have been great to see both castings, especially as the main reason I’d made the journey over, was to see Roberto Bolle and by the time the curtain fell on this second act, I’d still not even caught a glimpse.
After another long interval, where the bonus was that I got into excited conversation with a ballet fan who was even travelling to Cuba for the Ballet Festival, I was eventually going to see that man I’d primarily come for. The third act commenced with Prototype, a special work choreographed on Roberto Bolle’s most famous works. It may not have been the most exciting of work and there’s probably much better choreography available on Youtube of Roberto but I for one was very excited to see some classical nuggets included as this is where this dancer is at his greatest. He is the epitome of the classical Prince, as much as it is a problem at times to have such classic looks that people look at you in one way only, he has such beautiful lines and lightness of landing after powerful jumps with outstretched long legs, that took him to being one of the top classical dancers of his generation. This work, although not earth-shattering choreographically, at least let us see some of the classical alongside more modern dancing, as an army of Roberto’s entered the projection behind the real-life original.
Next was a very modern work featuring Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes. Matvienko was the first to take to the stage who seemed at times to be a little unsure and it was interesting to contrast with the assured, Gomes who is not what I would have envisaged of a fiery Latin dancer brought up in the American style. Gomes is a lovely classical dancer with an assured technique but both dancers came together well for this piece, my interpretation was of Gomes as a tempter and the darker side to Matvienko’s psyche, representing some sort of an inner turmoil, conflict. There are shots from the programme
that show some of the more interesting moves from this work and the intricacy of the partnering. From the modern, danced in flesh coloured leotards to what started off with the dancer, who was in full Courtly dress, in quite an amusing piece, Vestris, danced by Sarafanov but the initial joke and laughter died slightly as this short piece went on. There wasn’t much else than the courtly fool to this piece and I’m not entirely sure what the point is, maybe to in a nod to ballet’s origins at the French Court. The penultimate work saw Vasiliev take to the stage once more in a work that started rather tamely but ended with Vasiliev’s trademark gravity-defying leaps round the stage as he completed turn after turn that brought some of the audience onto their feet. He is an amazing dancer and leaps, scintillating to watch in this work that was choreographed to showcase what is best about this dancer and such, probably received the best choreography of the night as the others were not necessarily dancing works that so fitted or challenged their particular skills but then when you’re one of the top dancers in the world, you will achieve this privileged position. For all his technique and athleticism, he is an engaging dancer who appreciates his audience.
Unfortunately the end of the evening came to an all swift end but with all the Kings of the Dance being on the stage for one last final work choreographed intelligently by Marcelo Gomes himself for the occasion with a sound track by fellow ballet dancer, Guillaume Cote. This was a somewhat comic piece that showed the dancers and some of their quirks or played on the fact that Vasiliev was a bit of a show-off with his spectacular jumps, a little separate from the rest of the dancers who were jibing at him, in a playful manner. This work is like a signature of the Kings of the Dance and is a short work to bring all these talented dancers together, at the end of what was a rather nice time, rather than a show that had great emotional depth but definitely worth seeing for some of the world’s greatest male dancers. Galas and showcases are like music Festivals, there is an ideal somewhere of seeing some of your favourite artists and some that you greatly admire or would quite like to but not quite want to part with the cash but somewhere in all the good intentions, there is something that is lost and that is usually the music or sound or on this occasion, the choreography was a bit patchy and didn’t really get pulses racing. However, although I was not blown away, I was perfectly satisfied by having made the journey over and this ballet fan, for one, was very happy. Although if you were a Londoner and were pretty much spoilt for choice for the number and variety of companies and works that are performed on London stages, it may have been altogether less satisfactory. I just hope that I get another opportunity to see Roberto Bolle dance again as unfortunately he is approaching that age were retirement may be just around the next corner but let’s hope not and hope that there is space for him on the a ballet stage, perhaps at Covent Garden?
Video of Roberto Bolle talking about forthcoming appearance at Kings of the Dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTP5IWLonGc