A mixed bill is always going to have highs and lows, and although Kings of the Dance does have the odd less-successful moment, on the whole it is a triumph. Featuring Roberto Bolle, Marcelo Gomes, Danis Matvienko, Leonid Sarafanov, Ivan Vasiliev and Guest Artist Svetlanka Lunkina, this is an evening of exquisite and explosive dance.
Act On gives us Remanso, choreographed by Nacho Duato, a powerful piece performed by Sarafanov, Matvienko and Gomes. All three are fleet of foot and limber, and although there are moment where the choreography falters, the dancers never do. A small screen is used as part of the piece, at times almost becoming another dancer, as the three caress it, climb it, hang off it and hide behind it. The piece revels in what the body can do – there’s real joy to be found here. Enrique Granados’s piano music is respected throughout, with the movement picking up on refrains and melodies. This is lush, exciting ballet until the sudden flex of a foot brings us flying into the modern day. With gravity-defying leaps and a vivid joie de vivre, this is a delightful piece that gives the dancers a chance to show us what they can do.
Act Two is a much darker piece, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, performed by the electrifying Vasiliev. Clad only in jeans, Vasiliev’s young man paces his room (within Georges Wakhevitch’s claustrophobic set) with the repressed energy of a caged animal. If the first piece celebrated what the body is capable of, Roland Petit’s choreography looks at what happens when the body is constrained. Lunkina appears, in creepy yellow dress and black gloves, tormenting the young man – she is by turns tender and violent. The dance is a battle of wills between Vasiliev and Lunkina, the movement is aggressive and chilling. Vasiliev produces a series of truly astonishing leaps, before curling up, foetally, broken. The whole piece swtiches between quiet, earth-bound despair and a desperate longing to break free, characterised by thwarted leaps and jumps and twists. Set to Bach’s ‘Passacaglia in C Minor’, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is a powerful and dramatic portrayal of a man on the brink.
Act Three is a series of five shorter pieces, of which the first and the last are, for me, the highlights. Prototype, the first piece of Act Three, playfully explores augmented humans and potential future scenarios with Bolle dancing in front of a screen filled with versions of himself. His movements are mirrored, echoed or pre-empted by the abstract shapes and colours on the screen, to mostly dazzling effect. There are times when the screen is too much like the iTunes visualiser, but on the whole the gimmick works and the piece feels genuinely fresh and exciting.
Morel et Saint-Loup from Ballet Proust is less interesting, choreographically, although it comes alive when the second dancer joins in. Performed by Matvienko and Gomes, this duet (by Roland Petit) feels staid compared to the other pieces. Vestris, by Leonid Jacobson, is a big balletic joke, poking fun at different conventions of classical ballet. Danced by Sarafanov, who just about has the comic timing and aplomb to pull this off, the joke still wears thin pretty quickly. Labyrinth of Solitude, performed by Vasiliev and choreographed by Patrick De Bana, feels like it runs out of ideas before it ends.
The final piece, “KO’D”, choreographed by Gomes, who performs alongside all of the other men, is wonderful. A show-off set piece, it showcases the skill of all five dancers as they leap and pirouette in unison. It’s great fun, and gives the dancers a chance to show us what they can do when they let rip. A fitting finale to a hugely enjoyable evening.
Kings of the Dance is at the Coliseum until 22 March. For more information and tickets, visit ENO’s website.