London Palladium – 28th May 2019
Reviewed by Andrew Walters
Not since the great days of Rudolf Nureyev has there been a dancer with quite the star-power of Sergei Polunin. The self-styled “ lion “ of ballet has roared into London this week as part of a lengthy world tour to perform his latest showcase featuring two completely different programmes.
Not for Polunin the safe, traditional dance houses of Sadler’s Wells, or the London Coliseum. Instead, he has chosen to hire the greatest variety theatre in the world, the London Palladium to show his new works.
With this major venue comes much higher expectation, equally high ticket prices, and the challenge of filling a very large theatre. For a solo ballet dancer, no matter how brilliant, this is quite a challenge. The question is, does he succeed?
Programme One begins with Fraudulent Smile, featuring witty choreography by Ross Freddie Ray, and quintessentially french flavoured music by Kroke. The curtain goes up on a single dancer, dressed in a clown-like outfit and make-up, who is NOT Sergei Polunin. He is joined by six other identically dressed dancers, male and female, who are essentially androgynous. The programme explains that they are all ONE person. In a series of vignettes, the piece builds to a shocking moment of violence, which begs the question “ why does a good man do bad things?”
The ensemble here features world class dancers of the calibre of Johan Kobborg, Alexey Lyubimov and Dejan Kolarov.
When the man we have all come to see finally arrives on stage, he is somewhat separate and aloof, taking in the moment, allowing us a good amount of time to simply absorb him, before he finally begins to dance. Of course as soon as he does, he is a thrilling, whirling mass of long hair and muscle, and is at once Spartacus, Romeo, Tybalt, Crown Prince Rudolf ( Mayerling ) and every other masculine hero from ballet that you can think of. He is simply jaw-dropping to watch.
However, “ Fraudulent Smile” , staged in a black and white box, with stark, white lighting, comes to an end after a mere 30 minutes and we then have a 30 minute interval.
The second of the three ballets, “ Paradox” follows. It is staged to a mixture of music from Stravinsky’s “ The Soldier’s Tale” and solo piano music of Chopin. Two dancers, Alexey Lyubimov and Dejan Kolarov perform a series of solos and duets which seem to be setting up a conflict between the “ old and new”, or classical and contemporary. The Chopin solos are danced by the pale. highly charismatic Lyubimov, whilst Kolarov, brunette and dark- haired represents the other, contemporary side. Most effective here are the poems , read by an uncredited Jeremy Irons, which inspire great choreography by Yuka Oishi, to the rhythm of the words. I have never seen the spoken word danced to before, without any music, and I found this very exciting.
The lights fade and then the last part of the evening commences without a break. This is “ Sacre”, a re-thinking of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” for ONE dancer, Sergei Polunin. He moves quietly on to the stage, and then executes the most jaw-dropping display of technical prowess and sheer stamina, in a series of athletic, bravura, extended solos. Although there are “down” moments which allow him to get his breath back, it is a wonder how he keeps this going for so long. However, he is the star of the show, and we have waited a long time for his big moment when he at last delivers the thrills that we expect.
At last he collapses in a heap in the middle of the stage, and the moment of sacrifice has taken place. Meanwhile, Lyubimov and Kolarov return, and in a tender epilogue to the evening, the tender music of Chopin returns and we realise that we have been witnessing the conflict between Sergei Polunin and his battle with trying to conform to the restrictions of classical ballet, and his desire to go his own way and be free.
In conclusion the question has to be asked…. does the evening deliver? Well, yes it does. By the end we have certainly experienced Polunin the man, and his awesome talent, whilst hoping that at some point we may be lucky enough to see him once again performing some of the great ballets in the canon, as well as his own contemporary creations.