Dance / King wears the wrong clothes

IT WAS the ultimate in perverse casting. They hired the world's greatest ballet dancer, and didn't let him dance. On Tuesday, Irek Mukhamedov, ex-Bolshoi star and the Royal Ballet's greatest prize made his singing- acting debut in The King and I. If they'd asked Pavarotti to dance we would have known it was meant to be comic. As it was, we were unsure. Mukhamedov can't sing and he can't deliver lines, so why, oh why, did he do it?

Despite the hammy legacy of Yul Brynner in the 1956 film, the part of the boorish, vain, misogynous King of Siam has attracted several serious artists. The actor Ben Kingsley turned in a fine recording with Julie Andrews, and Rudolf Nureyev, to the dismay of those who remembered his dancing prime, spent most of 1989 touring America in the role. It was one of his last.

For the Nureyev memorial gala at the Coliseum last year, Irek Mukhamedov was persuaded to perform one scene from the show: the scene, naturally enough, that includes the song "Shall We Dance?" and offers the sole opportunity for the male lead to put his best foot forward. On that occasion the dance, originally a simple polka, was extended and elaborated into something not entirely unworthy of a dancer's talents.

In this week's full-length show for the Covent Garden Festival in London's Freemason's Hall, restrictions of staging (a T-shaped catwalk affair) meant that scope for movement was reduced. The glee of seeing the great Mukhamedov learning basic steps from a singing actress ("Just watch me. One, two, three and . . .") was tempered by his subsequent three-minute cavorting with "Mrs Anna" (Liz Robertson) in cramped circles for fear of falling off the stage. It was nevertheless a relief to see him in his element at last.

"You are vurry difficult wooooman." This was one line that came over loud and clear. At other times the audience might have been listening to short-wave radio tuned to the Russian service on a stormy night. Whereas Nureyev's accent was tempered by 30 years in the West, Mukhamedov's is fresh-minted, and although Oscar Hammerstein clearly intended humour in the King's pidgin dialogue, he certainly meant it to be comprehensible.

And yet the show was not a disaster, nor has Mukhamedov forfeited his credibility. For shining through the sillyness of it all were the same qualities that - oddly enough - also make him a great dancer: a stage presence of heroic proportions, utter commitment to a role, and virility softened by such quantities of boyish charm that when the King goes berserk with a sword and attempts to behead an errant wifelet, we love him all the more.

The audience consisted not of dance fans, but of people who could hum the tunes. "I think it's that ballet chap, Irek McSomething," said one.Perhaps, in the end, the dancer's motivation was the most basic of all: fame. Oh to be a household name that people can pronounce with confidence.

The flamenco guitarist Paco Pena made a London appearance this week, but shunned personal limelight in the interests of performance tradition. The explosion of interest in danced flamenco in the last five years has often rendered it slicker and stagier than purists would like. Pena's show Flamenco Fire, devised with five dancers, two singers and four guitarists, tries to rediscover the everydayness of the art, while recognising that "the real thing" is no longer the preserve of illiterate gypsies stamping out their oppression around the camp fire. So the set was a scruffy rehearsal room, with two long mirrors and benches to sit on, the musicians drummed on old boxes and bottles, and the dancers wore any old thing - a sweatshirt, a bandana, a scarf around snaky hips. Yet for all the contrived informality, the spark failed to ignite until a sustained and complex display of heel- drumming by one of the male dancers, using a walking-stick as a kind of third leg, swept all reserve aside. We were his. And we were never even told who he was.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?