The Icarus Boys

Men in Motion at Sadlers Wells promised so much more than it delivered.

With a running time of about an hour, the absence of two advertised Russian dancers, (a visa problem was the excuse) and with the consequent absence of the final planned piece of the evening – Nacho Duato’s Remanso – the program seemed cobbled together but was saved by a brief appearance by the ex-principal of the Royal Ballet, Sergei Polunin, dancing for (perhaps) the last time in London for a long time, and by the mesmerising Daniel Proietto in a Russell Maliphant solo.

Former Royal Ballet principal, Ivan Putrov was the man behind the Men in Motion season of three evenings. His own choreographic effort, titled Ithaka, had been programmed to end the first half, but it came instead at the end of the evening.

Ithaka was a dance interpretation of C.P.Cavafy’s poem first published in 1911 in which the writer talks of the voyage of life and the treasures to be experienced along the way. Putrov interprets the journey with himself as the voyager, apparently torn between the attractions of a man and a woman. The ending is inconclusive and the choreography involves much posturing.

Considering the dramatic circumstances of the past week at the Royal Ballet, Polunin danced a strangely apt solo, Narcisse, by the Soviet choreographer Kasian Goleizovsky.

At the end of the bravura solo, Narcisse seems blinded in the spotlight, like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. All too apt for the Polunin who this week walked out of the Royal Ballet during rehearsals taken by Anthony Dowell for Ashton’s The Dream, in which he was to have danced with Alina Cojocaru.*

Narcisse was the second piece in the Men in Motion program, following the perfumed floral eroticism of Le Spectre de la Rose – the Nijinksy showcase whose life was itself an echo of Icarus’s fate.

As the spirit of the Rose, the Russian dancer, Igor Kolb was handicapped by both his costume and the rudimentary set. His leotard and tights were a dark and dusty pink, similar to the rubbery material orthodondists use for preparing dental plates.

Kolb was further handicapped by the claustrophobic oblong of space in which he had to follow the patterns of Nijinksy’s once sensational leaps.

The men of motion were saved by a modern tribute to Nijinksy – a solo created by Maliphant and based on the circular, patterned artworks Nijinsky painted at the time he descended into madness.

Proietto’s highly focussed performance deserved the warm and sustained applause for the solo, titled AfterLight (Part One), and danced to Satie’s Gnossiennes.

As Proietto rotated and arched backwards, his body was captured in a shaft of light, in much the same way as Sylvie Guillem was seen as if a shimmering object within a bell jar in Maliphant’s solo, Two, and it reminded me also of Guillem’s outstanding performance in Bejart’s Bolero in which she is the single figure caught in the light.

The overhead lighting, by Michael Hulls, shows Proietto as a blur of perpetual motion.

At first in a tracksuit and beanie, and then bared topped, the dancer resembles a luminous Caravaggio painting, as he spins and spins like a flame in the night. Another Icarus.

An unforgettable performance but one tinged with so much sadness.

* Polunin has spoken briefly to The Sunday Telegraph in London saying “It’s a confusing time at the moment, I have made a big decision and the next one will be important so I don’t want to rush it.

“For the moment I’m concentrating on ballet and on rehearsing. I need a few days alone to think about what I’m doing as I haven’t decided yet.”

He is staying in the north London house of Marinos and Arlene Christofi and their son Jade Hale-Christofi. Jade well understands the cloistered world of a ballet student. He trained at the Royal Ballet School and graduated in 2006.

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Sergei Polunin, Narcisse, photo © Elliott Franks

Daniel Proietto, photo © (c) Hugo Glendinning

Nijinsky’s ‘Dancer’ 1917/18, © Stiftung John Neumeier