Male dancers have traditionally deferred to the ladies in classical ballet, being reduced to holding or lifting her as she dominates center stage. Men do show their abilities in their variation within a Pas de deux, but are often more opaque. Modern ballet tends to be more balanced, and there are sexy pas de deux where body contact goes beyond poses, towards an integrated couple. And there are isolated cases where male dancers dominated, as in Béjart´s ballets conceived for Jorge Donn. Or parodies where men danced as girls, such as the very funny Trockadero Ballet.
However, back in 2008 Sergei Danielian had the novel idea of gathering a small group of first-rate men and calling the show "Kings of the Dance". Its basic characteristic: females are banned. Men dancing, alone, in duets, trios, quartets, quintets, are in themselves interesting enough. And so they prove, when they are well-chosen and are given intelligent choreographies.
This show has been seen in many cities during recent years, of course with different dancers, for this is a flexible concept. Men are stronger, more muscular, and being free of "chevalier service", they can resort to innovative steps, in some cases adapted to the particular characteristics of certain artists. Dancing is an essentially physical art; such matters as height, weight, bone structure, sexual orientation, are essential elements in the dancer´s personality, as well as his culture, musical sensibility, charisma. Two artists do with the same precision a pirouette, but one transcends and the other doesn´t; such is the mystery of communication.
The show was presented in two performances at the Coliseo by the Grupo Ars and Galicia Éminent ending their subscription series. Most of the five dancers were known from earlier visits in other contexts and no less than three were from ST Petersburg theatres. For the public –and for me- the special star was the youngest and most spectacular: Ivan Vasiliev, born in 1989 in Vladivostok, the Siberian port. He is currently First Dancer at both the American Ballet Theatre (New York) and at the other great St Petersburg company, the Mikhailovsky. Both in a gala in 2011 and now, he showed indeed that he is "the boy that can fly". Vasiliev did a marvelous solo turn: an intricate, very difficult choreography by Patrick De Bana called "Labyrinth of Solitude", in a romanticized version of Tomaso Vitali´s "Chaconne" (recorded, as everything else).
Christopher Weeldon is considered one of the best current choreographers. Although I found his invention uneven, I was interested by what was the initial piece of the First Part, "For 4", based on Schubert´s Second Movement from his Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden", as orchestrated by Mahler. As it is a theme with variations, it allowed for different groupings and tempi, admirably danced by Vasiliev and the other three: the Ukrainian Denis Matvienko, born 1979, star of St Petersburg´s Mariinsky and very recently named Director of the Kiev Ballet; the also Ukrainian Leonid Sarafanov, b.1982, from the Mikailovsky; and the appreciated Guillaume Côté, Canadian, 1981, who has danced at the Colón. Both Matvienko and Sarafanov made their local debut.
I have seen pieces by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato with the Compañía Nacional de Danza de España (where he had a long tenure, 1990-2010) that I found powerful and dramatic, but "Remanso", on charming piano works by Granados, seemed to me more gymnastic than poetic, contradicting the music. It was beautifully danced by Sarafanov, Matvienko and the tall and strong Marcelo Gomes, b.1979, Brazilian.
The second Part started with an attractive short piece, called "Quatro" though danced by only the two Ukrainians (Matvienko and Sarafanov) with splendid energy; both choreography (Edward Clug) and music (Milko Lazar) were fun either to see or to hear.
"Morel et Saint-Loup" is a homoerotic duet from Roland Petit´s ballet "Proust", 1974, on the nostalgic music by Fauré, his Elegy for cello, with piano and later with orchestra (a collation of both versions). It is a sensitive, discreet treatment of the subject, and was danced tastefully by Côté and Gomes.
The short "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck´s "Orphée et Eurydice", provided the famous choreographer Frederick Ashton in 1978 with an opportunity to give the Royal Ballet´s star Anthony Dowell a Neoclassic solo of great elegance. It was Matvienko who danced it now, with the line of a true "danseur noble".
The final piece, "KO´d", is a joint effort of Gomes as choreographer and Côté as composer to give all five a chance to dance together harmoniously, and so they did. Frankly, the music (Sonata Nº 4 for piano) sounded to me like bad Chopin, but it was a pleasure to see these five distinguished dancers collaborating with such equanimity.
In the final analysis, this varied show with new pieces for our audiences proved its point: it is perfectly possible to have an evening of great dancing without the girls. (Ladies should take up the challenge and do a "Queens of the Dance"). We had four very good artists and an exceptional one, and at least the choreographies of Clug (a Romanian), Petit and De Bana were real finds.
Our public is hungry for shows of distinguished international dancing. We do have our own stars and they must have more chances to show their talents, but it is essential to make contact with the greats of the world if we are to remain a vital focus for dance.