There is something of the spirit of Diaghilev about former Royal Ballet principal Ivan Putrov. His itinerant Men in Motion series has been travelling around Europe, since 2012, as an ongoing exploration of the changing role of male dancers. I have had the privilege of seeing former programmes in Poland and at Sadler’s Wells and have much admired Putrov for both the entrepreneurial and artistic side of his new life as an impresario.

Anton Lukovkin
© Elliot Franks

Every impresario has to learn from failures as much as from the adulation of success and this show, I fear, was a strange mix of both; with several excellent performances bookended by two that I hope never to see again. The whole programme was lacking in momentum, punctuated by lengthy pauses between works. 

Entering the theatre, the audience was greeted by Daniel Proietto, a wonderful dancer, standing in front of the curtains, apparently reading snippets of fake news from his smartphone.  Dressed in a quasi-fascist black uniform with a red, peaked officers’ cap - sited jauntily on the back of his head - Proietto spoke in front of a quasi-fascist symbol, which, on further inspection, turned out to be an italicised hashtag in a circle of red. 

After a selfie with the track-suited show’s producer, Proietto then launched into a long monologue, at least partly taken from the script of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator but instead of being applauded for his text recall, the hapless dancer was jeered and slow-handclapped by an impatient section of the audience, clearly unamused by his polemic. There may have been a good idea hidden somewhere in The Mockracy - about the fake news of social media, or some such concept - but it fundamentally failed to work on any level.

Irek Mukhamedov
© Elliot Franks

This unfortunate beginning was followed by the orchestral performance of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous adagio, used as the Prince’s variation in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of The Sleeping Beauty. Of particular note was the haunting violin solo by Zara Benyounes, which the audience listened to while observing a blue curtain. No dance. Excluding the final seconds of Proietto’s monologue, which contained some very slow movement, the first half-hour of Men in Motion passed by with no men in motion.

To be fair, the next twelve pieces were all danced; nine as solos, with three duets. A larger work might have given the programme a lift. There were historic snippets appropriate to Putrov’s century-old analysis of men in ballet: Anton Lukovkin in a spirited solo from Petrushka; Mathieu Ganio essaying superb, lyrical form in the Prince’s variation from Nureyev’s Swan Lake; with Putrov accompanying Francesca Hayward – the only woman in the show – through a pedestrian Le Spectre de la Rose. These were interspersed with innovative modern works, punctuated by gala staples, such as the ubiquitous Ballet 101 (performed, with some humour, by Giovanni Princic).

Proietto returned from the poor reception of his opening monologue to do what he does best, reprising two solos that are his and his alone: the glorious AfterLight, made by Russell Maliphant to exploit this dancer’s extraordinary, soft ability to spin effortlessly; followed by Sinnerman, another work in which lighting and music (Nina Simone’s eponymous song) are integral to Proietto’s performance; his skin-tight sparkling costume changing from silver, to gold, to green.    

Other good work came in three back-to-back solos in the first act for, respectively, the chiselled physique of Marian Walter in Ludovic Ondiviela’s Berlin; Matthew Ball playing with a diagonal of light in an extract from Christopher Bruce’s Swansong; and Ganio, wearing an ultra-fluffy Philip Treacy jacket, moulting and melting like a dying swan in Alastair Marriott’s Clair de Lune (for me, the best of the whole show).

Alessandro Staiano and Marian Walter
© Elliott Franks

The second half highlights came in a new duet by Ondiviela, System/A.I, in which Ball appeared to be a mail order partner for Putrov, literally unpackaged by him, before their duet; and Alessandro Staiano, with Walter, dancing the pas de deux from Roland Petit’s Proust Ou Les Intermittences du Coeur.

The final work was the third world première of the bill and – bluntly – it was little better than the opening fiasco. Irek Mukhamedov – one of the greatest dancers of the later twentieth century – hammed his way through Arthur Pita’s choreography, which presented him as a vodka-swilling, has-been, attempting – and failing - to perform a routine with a tambourine. 

Eventually, he takes several tambourines from a chest that he sat upon as the curtains opened and – in a fit of pique – throws them around the stage. The best moment was the concluding coup de théâtre with Mukhamedov guillotining himself under the falling curtain. Like the opening number, Jingling from the Zills was a courageous exposure of the lone performance artist, but it was equally badly misjudged as a means of entertainment.