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The Kings of the Dance

posted 18 May 2014, 10:35 by Juliana Araújo   [ updated 21 Jun 2014, 12:59 ]

The Kings of the Dance which was produced by Sergei Danilian in 2006, was originally performed by Angel Corella, Johan Kobborg, Ethan Stiefel and Nikolay Tsiskaridze. When the project began to unfold, the people involved had in mind to gather the crème de la crème of the ballet world to explore the skills and attributes of the male dancing, which sometimes are overlooked, because quite often the male figure is overshadowed by the ballerina’s splendor. Except from solos and codas, usually the role of the enchanting princes is to partner and support their princesses on stage.

The London debut at the Coliseum last March featured dancers at the peak of their careers coming from four different companies. This time, the team was casted by Marcelo Gomes (American Ballet Theatre), Ivan Vasiliev (American Ballet Theatre), Denis Matvienko (The Bolshoi), Leonid Sarafanov (Mikhailovsky Ballet) and Roberto Bolle (American Ballet Theatre and Teatro Alla Scala). The only female presence on the show was the virtuous Svetlana Lunkina, from the Bolshoi and who currently performs at the National Ballet of Canada as guest artist.

On the same note, the choreographers treated their dancers with creative works which were showcased in a tasteful contemporary dance programme. That said, all mixed bills have their ups and downs; and in this case, the comparison between the pieces and dancers were inevitable. In fact, Marcelo Gomes has said several times that the dancers come from different schools and were trained in different different methodologies; which make them unique in their own style.

Also, it was interesting to notice the way this ballet was perceived by the media and critics. Despite the fact that the show had the purpose of showcasing the art and beauty of the male dancing, I feel that the interest for this topic was extrapolated. There was much talk about the celebration of male dancing, ego and testosterone. It seems that these concerns often arise when ballet danced by men such as the Men in Motion by Ivan Putrov and Men y Men produced by the English National Ballet are staged in the UK. What is so extraordinary about this? I could not tell for sure, but it does not matter. Since its premiere, the Kings of the Dance has always been acclaimed by international critic; and theatres are always flocked by people who go there to see their idols. Due to the high quality of the dancers and their choreographers, the project could never fail, but even so, it deserves a careful analysis of what was seen.


Remanso which was choreographed by Nacho Duato opened the evening. The piece was danced by Marcelo Gomes, Denis Matvienko Leonid Sarafanov to the music of Enrique Granados. The performance was dynamic, lively and fun; and it was possible to recognise the Latin influence of its creator. The impeccable lighting enabled the public to recognise the dancers by their mannerisms and technique. Sarafanov with his precise and light moves, Matvienko also showing his refined technique and Gomes was all charisma and virility.

As part of setting a screen was installed in the middle of the stage. Its colours changed by a projector that threw different beams of light on it. This was the only prop with which the dancers interacted. The way they climbed and hid themselves behind it, was to some extent reminiscent of Boris Eifman’s Rodin. In addition to the solos, the dancers showed moments of complicity and sensitivity represented by a red rose that was being passed from hand to hand at the final part of the performance.  

In my opinion Remanso was an excellent choice for opening the show. With vibrant music and a flawless performance, the dancers were able to engage the public treating them with with moments of beauty, colour and pleasure.

Le Jeune Homme et La Mort

The dancer casted for March 22 was glorious Roberto Bolle who played the young man drowned in deep existential crisis whose actions instincts were driven by his dominatrix lover-- the death --  who leads him to the tragic end.

The piece begins with Bolle lying on a bed, staring at the ceiling. Well, for a start, the bed was facing the back of the stage and not the audience, which restricted view of the dancer's facial expression, which as a real shame.

Dressed in a bright yellow dress, the girlfriend controls the young man’s actions with a mixture of sadism and seduction. With sophistication and class, black gloves and bob hair style gave the ballerina a fresh and chic Parisian look. In the second part of the show, the macabre lover appears wearing a skull mask and continues to manipulate the boy until he finally jumps from a ramp. The modern Paris skyline setting gave the audience a sense of freedom and spaciousness which contrasted with the claustrophobic and gloomy bedroom shown in the first part of the ballet.

Putting up all that aside, the interpretation of Jeune Homme et La Mort is undoubtedly challenging. Performing an attitude derrière on the edge of a table is not for everyone and executing cabrioles on a stage full of props requires skill and control. Endowed with impeccable and polished technique, Bolle and Lunkina performed their respective roles with confidence and elegance. However, I missed Nureyev’s visceral expressiveness and Zizi Jeanmaire’s femme fatale attitude.

As a thriller, this ballet grabs your attention wherever you are. I particularly consider Jean Cocteau’s libretto a masterpiece that could only have been so brilliantly choreographed by genial Roland Petit. Although it was created in 1946, the ballet remains timeless, intriguing and deserves a revival.


Prototype was created specifically for Roberto Bolle by Massimiliano Volpini. The piece begins with the dancer performing typical center ballet class exercises, followed by several images of himself on a screen which was mounted at the back of the stage. Despite the beautiful pictures displayed in magnified scale, and the pleasant image of his torso, the video became an element of distraction which overshadowed his physical presence on stage. Moreover, the lighting did not help either. There were moments when Bolle interacted with his own images, but the special effects used in Prototype were somewhat disruptive and again he was left in the shade. The problem here was not about the use of technology in a ballet performance, but when the devices became more important than the artist himself. To me these extra resources were out of the the context of the choreography and did not do Bolle any justice, whose talent and skills were fortunately noted in the previous performance.


Leonid Sarafanov who was casted to play Leonid Jacobson’s Vestris, did a flawless show in terms of precision and technique. His leaps and jumps were soft and soundless; and his fast response to the music was impressive. However, to some extent his performance was not convincing and lacked chemistry and engagement with the audience. Further, the inclusion of Vestris in the programme was not appropriate because a piece based on classical technique like this, ended up breaking the sequence of contemporary pieces which was the predominant style of the evening. Having said that, the choreography is interesting,  intricate, and requires from the dancer a considerable level of skill to perform movements not always familiar by the public. I think Vestris would have been more suitable for a mixed bill with similar themes or a gala evening where different dance styles are performed.    

Morel et Saint-Loup from Ballet Proust

Morel et Saint-Loup is a well constructed piece conceived by the amazing Roland Petit. This time for sure, the ballet well fitted the programme. As expected, the theme was again timeless. The nude-coloured unitards was a perfect choice for this performance, as they were almost imperceptible revealing the the dancers’ muscles and physical shape, which were not unnoticed by the public.

With intricate moves, the choreography requires athleticism and strength; and dancers were left with the task of performing challenging lifts, considering that in most cases male dancers are required to partner light-weight ballerinas. The pas de deux executed by Matvienko and Gomes formed beautiful shapes on stage and the pair performed movements not often seen in recent works. While their steps were controlled and  precise, some sequences seemed awkward, lacking fluidity and expressiveness. Although this performance was not all perfect, once again, the dancers showed what they are capable of doing on stage; and the quality of their work made the piece worthy of being part of this ensemble.

Labyrinth of Solitude

Strength, power and stamina. What more can I say about Ivan Vasiliev that has not yet been said? Vasiliev was simply perfect. Dressed only in black trousers, the dancer defied the limits of gravity. I was particularly impressed with the level maturity that such a young dancer delivered this performance. His turns en menage and leaps were monumental; the flexibility of his body was instrumental to echoe Patrick de Bana’s ideas, who knew what he was capable of. Having been applauded on various occasion during the show, Vasiliev managed to charm the audience with his artistry who were hypnotised by his powerful and precise moves. His talent, skills and passion for dancing were clearly noticed on this particular solo  and he truly deserved to be crowned the king of the evening.


With a refined and elegant choreography Marcelo Gomes showed his promising future as a choreographer. I did not particularly find the piece innovative, but it gave the dancers the opportunity to show their synchronized moves in unison. The sonata composed by Guillaume Coté is so beautiful, and the  delicate sound of the piano gave enough freshness to this contemporary piece of work.   

Regardless of the less fortunate moments during the show, the Kings of the Dance managed to achieve the purpose for which it was conceived. Due to the high quality of the dancers’ and  choreographers’ work, I thought that reviewing this performance was not an easy task to do. Thus, the analysis goes beyond the quality of the performers’ dancing, as discussions remain in the realm of charisma, artistic interpretation, that make these dancers unique kings of their own artistry.

Performance  Credits

Act One


Music: Enrique Granados

Choreographer: Nacho Duato

Lighting Design: Brad Fields

Staging: Tony Fabre

Performed by Leonid Sarafanov, Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes

Act Two

Le Jeune Homme et La Mort

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582

Libretto: Jean Cocteau

Choreographer: Roland Petit

Staging: Luigy Bonino

Lighting: Jean Michel Desire

Set: Georges Wakhevitch

Costumes: Karinska

Set: Courtesy of the English National Ballet

First Performance: 1946, Les Ballets des Champs-Élysées.

Performed by Ivan Vasiliev (March 19, 21)

Roberto Bolle (March 20, 22)

Svetlana Lunkina (March 19-22).

Act Three


Music: Jean Salvatori

Producer: Fausto Dase

Concept and Choreography: Massimiliano Volpini

Costumes: Roberto Guidi di Bagno mad by Sartoria Farani

Co-Directed: Avantgarde Numerique and XCHanges Vfx Design

Visual Effects: XChanges VFx

Performed by Roberto Bolle

Morel Saint-Loup from Ballet Proust

Music: Gabriel Faure

Choreographer: Roland Petit

Staging: Luigi Bonino

First performance: 1974, National Ballet of Marseille

Performed by Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes.


Music: Gennady Bansshikov

Choreography: Leonid Jacobson

Staging: Andrey Ivanov

Performed by Leonid Sarafanov

Labyrinth of Solitude

Music Tomaso Antonio Vitali (Ciaconne in G Minor for Violin and Piano)

Choreography: Patrick de Bana

Performed by Ivan Vasiliev


Music: Guillaume Coté (Piano Sonata no 4 in F# minor)

Choreography: Marcelo Gomes

Performed by Marcelo Gomes, Roberto Bolle, Denis Matvienko, Ivan Vasiliev, Leonid Sarafanov

Producer: Sergei Danilian

Search Terms: The King’s of the Dance, Coliseum, English National Opera, American Ballet Theatre, Marcelo Gomes, Ivan Vasiliev, Denis Matvienko, The Bolshoi, Leonid Sarafanov, Mikhailovsky Ballet, Roberto Bolle, Teatro Alla Scala Ballet, Svetlana Lunkina, National Ballet of Canada, Remanso, Nacho Duato, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, Roland Petit, Prototype, Vestris, Morel et Saint-Loup, Ballet Proust, 

Labyrinth of Solitude, Patrick De Bana, “KO’D”, Guillaume Coté, Johann Sebastian Bach Jean Cocteau

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