Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Men in Motion: ‘Dance is superior to all other art forms’

Ivan Putrov in Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Men in Motion at Sadler’s Wells in 2012. Photo: Elliott Franks Ivan Putrov in Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Men in Motion at Sadler’s Wells in 2012. Photo: Elliott Franks
by -

As international ballet star Ivan Putrov’s showcase of how the role of the male dancer has changed over the last 100 years returns to the London Coliseum, he talks to Nick Smurthwaite about the excitement of bringing the history of dance to life

Former Royal Ballet principal dancer Ivan Putrov is to bring ballets created more than a century ago to the London Coliseum with his touring show Men in Motion. The show, which has visited five countries since it began touring in 2012, has a variable programme that depends on the dancers available at the time.

“I always wanted to use the best dancers of today to showcase works from the past as well as new works,” explains the Ukranian-born Putrov, who has been based in London for more than 20 years and who frequently appears in the show, as well as being its producer and artistic director.

“I’m showing a century of male dance. The way the romantic-era ballets were constructed was that the main jewel was the ballerina, with the male dancers supporting her.

A scene from Men in Motion. Photo: Nick Knight

“The choreographer Michel Fokine changed all that in 1911 with his short ballet Le Spectre de la Rose, with Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, which was a turning point in the role of the male dancer. It was the first time a male dancer took a bow with a ballet that he owned. At the time it was truly shocking.”

Putrov himself will dance Le Spectre de la Rose in the upcoming shows at the Coliseum. Other dancers taking part will be Matthew Ball, Daniel Proietto, and the 57-year-old Irek Mukhamedov, all principals, either past or present.

Mukhamedov will dance a new piece created specially for him by Arthur Pita, while Ball is revisiting Christopher Bruce’s powerful Swansong (1987), the theme of which is torture and interrogation.

The other retro pieces in the programme include an excerpt from Nureyev’s 1966 Sleeping Beauty, and Fokine’s Petrushka, also made famous by Nijinsky in the early years of the 20th century, with music by Stravinsky.

Putrov’s choice of ballets cleverly reflects the evolution of choreography for men, from hyper-macho supporting roles in the early days of romantic ballet to a more new man-ish role, largely thanks to the work of Kenneth MacMillan and Anthony Dowell, exploring the full range of masculine traits, from aggression to vulnerability.

Is he keen to attract a new audience to the ballet who might be put off by the formalities of classical dance?

A scene from Men in Motion. Photo: Oleksandr Putrov

“I love all kinds of dance and, for me, it is superior to other art forms. Movement is such a basic instinct for human beings, and dance is something you can do at any age. My aim is to cross-fertilise classical and contemporary dance, and to show how dance has changed over a century. I always find it strange how the audiences for classical and contemporary dance are so divided. For me, dance is dance.”

That said, Putrov himself walked away from classical dance when he left the Royal Ballet in 2010.

“I was tired of doing so many Swan Lakes, Nutcrackers and Cinderellas. Dancers only have 20 active years if they are lucky, so it is important to think about the future. The lucky few will teach, even fewer will get to run a company. I’ve seen so many dancing careers end badly. I knew I wanted to stay in the world of the theatre, and I knew I wanted to produce work.”

Where did his interest in dancers and choreography from the past come from?

“My training in Kiev from the age of 10 included the history of theatre and dance. I also have a lot of curiosity about what has gone before. I’m always shocked when young dancers I’ve worked with say, for example, they don’t know the story of Giselle, or they don’t know who Nijinsky is. It’s up to the teachers in ballet schools to make the history of dance exciting, to bring it to life.”

Still in his 30s, Putrov is clearly someone with the generosity of spirit to promote and celebrate other talents beside his own, as well as a strong entrepreneurial drive.

“For me, the thrill of producing Men in Motion is the same thrill I get from dancing,” he says. “When some of today’s great masters of dance accept my invitation, that’s the greatest thrill of all. It is a wonderful opportunity to grant some wishes to dancers to do things they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do, and also to commission new work.”

Would he like to cross over into mainstream theatre, directing or choreographing musicals, perhaps?

“I like to do work that conveys something to the audience that will touch them or affect them in a profound way. I’m not ambitious to be a choreographer. I think a choreographer has to have something to say, and if and when I have something to say I will do more choreography.”

Putrov adds: “It happens at different times for different people. I hope Men in Motion will still be around in 10 years’ time. There is always a risk in producing any show, but dancing itself is all about taking risks, so it doesn’t feel that different.”

Men in Motion is at the London Coliseum for two nights only, November 22 and 23

If you’d like to read more stories from the history of theatre, all previous content from The Stage is available at the British Newspaper Archive in a convenient, easy-to-access format. Please visit: thestage.co.uk/archive