Dancer Ivan Putrov brings his showcase of male roles to London with, he tells Louise Jury, a new star cast, classically inspired pieces and new works set to the music of Nina Simone and Johnny Cash
For even the most famous male ballet star, much of the day job involves playing sexy forklift-truck to a female co-star. Not so with Men in Motion, the show that former Royal Ballet dancer Ivan Putrov brings to the Coliseum next month, a compilation of the most dazzling choreography created for male dancers.
Edward Watson, arguably the best British dancer of today, Vadim Muntagirov, lead principal with the English National Ballet — both best male contenders in this year’s National Dance Awards — and Carlos Acosta’s nephew, Yonah, are the latest stars to join the passion project which the Ukrainian Putrov, 33, first presented at Sadler’s Wells last year.
At its premiere, the unexpected headline was that fellow Ukrainian Sergei Polunin turned up to perform despite having just dramatically quit the Royal Ballet, though he is not returning for the new show, which will be quite different from the original, depending as it does on its individual dancers. Putrov has spent the past year taking Men in Motion to Italy and Russia and in each manifestation, the core concept has remained the same.
“I’m showing a century of male dance,” he says. In the big 19th-century classics, women’s roles dominated. “The way the Romantic era ballets were constructed was that the main jewel is the ballerina and all the other aspects were to support that main jewel.”
But when the choreographer Michel Fokine created the short ballet Le Spectre de la Rose with Vaslav Nijinsky as the rose in 1911, Putrov says it marked a turning point. “It was the first time [a male dancer] took a bow with a ballet that was really his. At that time, it was truly shocking.”
So Men in Motion takes Le Spectre and other short 20th-century classics for men by choreographers such as Roland Petit and George Balanchine and presents them alongside specially created new pieces.
Next month’s version includes Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un faune set to Debussy’s score. And the premieres include Daniel Proietto dancing to the music of Nina Simone and Marijn Rademaker to Johnny Cash. Edward Watson is also working with choreo-grapher Arthur Pita, having previously danced his adaptation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. There is also a possibility of a new duet with Watson and Rademaker.
“Some of it comes together quite late,” says Putrov. “There isn’t a rule for how creations happen. But that would be very intriguing, a male duet created with probably the best British dancer of the moment and the very exciting Dutch dancer from Stuttgart.”
His own performances will include Russell Maliphant’s 2x2 and Narcisse by Kasyan Goleizovsky.
He comes from a family of ballet dancers; his mother, Natalia Berezina-Putrova, was a star of the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and his father, Oleksandr, was a soloist . “I was pretty much born in a theatre,” Ivan says. “This is the world I love and want to be part of.”
He has lived in London since winning the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition at the age of 15 and being invited to the Royal Ballet School. He progressed to principal dancer in the company, with which he last performed in 2010.
“I love London,” he says. “It is so rich in culture and very much alive right now.” Making his career here has enabled Putrov to escape accusations that his success is down to his background. “If I had gone home, there would always be a finger pointing to my achievements being because of my name.”
Recent success includes the Pet Shop Boys ballet The Most Incredible Thing, at Sadler’s Wells, which was created for him in 2011. Since then the dancer has moved into producing his own shows, starting with Men in Motion. “If I have an idea in one hand and the power to produce in the other hand, I’m running the show,” he says.
But it also brings new responsibility. Sponsors help with some of the costs, such as hotel rooms for guest dancers, but Putrov admits the Coliseum is a worryingly large auditorium to fill — “at the same time, you have to want at some level to show off and have the balls to do it.”
He insists on having a full orchestra and, for the new London shows, a voluntary chorus in the New London Chamber Choir to create an all-encompassing experience. But he has never wanted it to be a long one, keeping the running time tight to around two hours. “I would rather have it short, dynamic and inspired,” says the elfin man — as if he’s describing himself.
The premiere in 2012, overshadowed as it was by the Polunin scandal, was welcomed by some critics as “an impressive group of performers” presenting works that were “equally impressive”. But others saw the venture as “bitty”. Putrov, though, is undeterred by criticisms and excited about his new cast. “I’ve discovered another way of expressing myself. It’s fulfilling.”