What can make you a king if you’re not born with blue blood in your veins? Well, five vital young men from top international ballet companies hit the stage of the London Coliseum last night to vie for that title, and all showed enough power and dynamism flowing though them to truly deserve a crown. Athletic, handsome, talented and full of fun, they jovially competed for the best tricks, fastest speed and audience adoration in an evening that saw some stunning technical displays and elegant style.

Kings of the Dance, the brainchild of Sergei and Galane Danilian, directors of Ardani Artists, is an enterprising endeavour to focus solely on the male dancer and place him at the forefront, rather than behind a ballerina. The première of these gala spectaculars took place in Russia in 2006, and this first London visit sees principal dancers at the height of their careers from four companies. The ‘Kings’ here are Marcelo Gomes from American Ballet Theatre; Roberto Bolle from La Scala; Denis Matvienko and Leonid Sarafanov representing the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky Ballet respectively; and Ivan Vasiliev, who is now with Mikhailovsky Ballet and ABT; while Svetlana Lunkina, formerly from the Bolshoi Ballet, now National Ballet of Canada, adds the sole feminine touch in a cameo role in Le Jeune Homme et le Mort. In an action-packed evening, the young men dance works by Jacobson, Petit, de Bana, Duato, Volpini, and Gomes – pieces mostly new to the British public.

It was a night of boys having fun together. In friendly but persuasive competition, they showed off their individual styles and different approaches to dance, yet showed the ability to create unity with each other on stage. And who could not but admire all those wonderful, often shiny naked torsos and rippling muscles of their different body shapes and heights? The programme was cut into three short – very short – sections, beginning with Remanso by Nacho Duato, the present director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet, who takes over Staatsballet Berlin next season. In this work, Gomes, Matvienko and Sarafanov, wearing hot pants with net tops, silently walk onto a stage graced only by a wall structure, which they hide behind, climb over and pose against. As the wall changes colours, each has his moment to display his muscularity and physical strength in a series of slick and brisk leaps and turns, in the angular, at times off-balance choreography. It is sometimes tinged with humour though underlines a more serious message. Gomes, the largest dancer of this trio, was all power, muscular Matvienko was a live wire, and fine-boned Sarafanov combined elegance with energy, at one point dancing with a rose between his teeth, handed to him from behind the wall. 

Part 2 was the highlight of the evening, with Ivan Vasiliev performing Roland Petit’s tragic masterpiece Le Jeune Homme et Le Mort. The astounding young Russian performed this, to terrific acclaim, in London in July 2011 as his tribute to Petit on hearing of the choreographer’s death. Dressed only in jeans, his glistening pecs heaving with desire and exertion, he showed superhuman strength, throwing himself into the character of a tormented youth. Lashing out at life with slicing jetés, hole-boring turns, long leaps onto and over a table, and the incredible throwing of his body high above the stage in a completely horizontal position, he was light-footed and, as if from an unseen imaginary trampoline, he sprang high into the air. Svetlana Lunkina offered a predatory and slinky Girl but lacked the sex appeal needed to add extra frisson to the drama.

Part 3 saw works by five choreographers, which were varied in style and success. Prototype by Massimiliano Volpini combined technology with Roberto Bolle’s dancing, and while quite entertaining to see multiple Bolle’s dancing on a screen behind him, it did distract from the real-life dancer who is renowned for his beauty and refined dancing. Morel et Saint Loup by Petit to music by Faure showed Matvienko performing a strong tough solo before being joined by Gomes (both in nude tights and top) in a homoerotic pas de deux with its lingering grasps and intensity.

Leonid Jacobson’s Vestris needs the powerful magnetism of its original creator Mikhail Barishnikov to make the short work effective, and Sarafanov, for all his elegance and neatness, didn’t quite make this take-off of 19th Century manners interesting. In a complete change of style, Vasiliev zoomed onto the stage again in Labyrinth of Solitude by Patrick De Bana, which saw several lady fans leaping out of their seats for a standing ovation. Here, once again bare-chested, he raced like an Olympian athlete determined to win gold, his speed and force never covering over his clearly defined footwork. It was exhaustive to watch and yet, two minutes later, when he just had had time to put on white tights and black top, he was back on stage to join the other four boys for the finale. This was Gomes own work, KO’D which has them all leaping in unison with beautifully pointed feet, and gives moments for each to show off yet more sizzling technique in a celebration of the male dancer. Kings of their art, all of them.