When it comes to ballet galas, my approach tends to be cautious. They can be hit and miss, as they are so dependent on the group of dancers that has been lined up and the repertory to be performed, and also on the amount of last minute substitutions. One of the first ballet galas I attended was the Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum, a yearly programme that brings fantastic dancers from around the world to dance the usual staples from Swan Lake (pick between the white swan or black swan pas de deux), Le Corsaire (Ali and Medora), Scheherazade (Zobeide and the Golden Slave), the balcony pas de deux from Romeo & Juliet and perhaps some extra pizzazz via Don Quixote. Of course this is all fine, particularly if it gives the audience an opportunity to see dancers they do not often see, as they perform truly amazing technical feats. But these evenings also feel a bit predictable and like a lost opportunity.
Ivan Putrov, the former Royal Ballet Principal turned producer, is trying to change that. He has been putting together gala evenings centered around a specific theme, with the purpose of celebrating dance. His productions are as much about the works themselves as they are about the dancers. ‘I am like a kid that is so excited to have found this new thing, and really want to share it with close friends and family’, he admits.
His previous production, Men in Motion, looked at the role male dancers played in a post-romantic dance world and featured solos (as opposed to ballet excerpts) from a variety of choreographers. His new show, Against the Stream, is built around the people who influenced the world of dance and changed it: ‘My new project celebrates the great talents of genius people who have influenced the world of dance beyond recognition. So, because those great masters – usually choreographers, though not always - didn’t do what others did at the time, they had a different idea, a different vision in which they were persistent and that set a new example for the future’.
The production premiered at the London Coliseum last Sunday and, if you follow us on Instagram, you already know from the stories we published that we had a wonderful time. The repertory for Against the Stream was eye-catching: the pas de deux from Serge Lifar’s stunning Suite en Blanc, also the one from Balanchine’s Diamonds, In G Major by Jerome Robbins (which had not been seen in London since 1981), Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits and MacMillan’s Images of Love. We wondered how Putrov had made this decidedly contrarian selection: ‘It is a collaboration’, he says. ‘I am trying to go back to the cradle of where ballets where created, because I would like to present them as close as possible to the original soul of the piece. And trying to search for a better example of how those pieces should be done, by going to companies where they were created or approaching dancers who have trained in the style of these choreographers. This constant atmosphere of keeping the heritage influences the dancers who perform these works. But I don’t know the full rep of the masters of New York or Paris as well as the dancers who grew up on them. So the process of choosing the rep is a collaboration’.
On top of his role of producer, Putrov also performed at the gala, dancing in Ashton’s Dance of Blessed Spirits and with The Royal Ballet’s Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri in Images of Love: ‘The Dance of Blessed Spirits was first performed at the London Coliseum in 1978. Since that performance, it has not been shown there. I had danced it in London in 2012 and I am so happy to be able to do it in the place where it was created. I was familiar with Images of Love, since it was part of a tribute that Sylvie Guillem produced for Rudolf Nureyev a few years back. And Edward Watson, Tamara Rojo and I had danced this trio. I don’t believe it has been shown ever since, so it is exciting to revive it. It is a huge honour that Lady MacMillan was so welcoming and very happy and interested in reviving it, and that Lynn Seymour rehearsed us’.
True, the evening also featured a couple of gala staples, Flames of Paris and Diana and Actaeon. So how do they fit within the programme? Putrov told me: ‘Both of these works are products of ballet’s survival in post-revolution Bolshevik world. The art of ballet was thought to be a Tsarist toy and the new rulers of the land wanted to throw it away. Ballet had to find a new way and the findings were incredible. As a result, we have a different way of moving or even a style, that is immediately engaging, really athletic and big. So, Flames of Paris and Diana and Actaeon are the pinnacle of this movement’.
One can only admire Putrov’s initiative and it’s almost as if he has read my mind on gala programming: ‘Being able to bring masterpieces that are not usually seen is more attractive and interesting’. When we add to that a set of guest stars that includes Mathieu Ganio and Hannah O’Neill from the Paris Opera Ballet, Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle from New York City Ballet, Katja Khaniukova from English National Ballet, Dmitry Zagrebin from the Royal Swedish Ballet, Marcelo Gomes, Joaquin de Luz, plus Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball from The Royal Ballet… what is there not to like? Indeed, there have been great reviews for this production, and we shall be looking out for further editions.
Follow @putrov_productions to stay in touch with Against the Stream and other productions by Ivan Putrov.