Men in Motion, Sadler’s Wells, London


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The Independent Culture

Ivan Putrov’s Men In Motion suffers from the law of diminishing returns.

His first version of the show, unveiled in January, received an unexpected boost through guest star Sergei Polunin’s shock resignation from The Royal Ballet. Polunin made front page headlines, and Men in Motion was a chance to see what the fuss was about. As the news story fades, Polunin is back to make his choreographic debut – which does nothing to lift a desperately weak evening.

The main stage at Sadler’s Wells is an exposing place to make your choreographic debut. Polunin’s new work is a solo for himself, inspired by James Dean. Danced to two snatches of film scores, it’s a naïve mix of virtuoso steps and teenaged angst.

Dressed in Dean’s iconic jeans and white t-shirt, Polunin tugs at the sleeve of a jacket drapes over a chair, pulls unhappy faces and launches himself into jumps and spins. His technique is clear-cut, but has little to do with the vague acting sequences. Thus far, James Dean is another incoherent gala number. Then, for the ending, Polunin runs off stage to amplified car crash noises, prompting stifled giggles from the audience.

James Dean is essentially student choreography, an immature work in desperate need of advice on stagecraft. Looking at the rest of Men in Motion, it’s easy to see why it didn’t get it. For this second version of the show, Putrov – like Polunin, a former Royal Ballet star – has a new lineup of guest stars and numbers. It looks cobbled together from who could show up.

Tim Matiakis gives a punchy performance of Jorma Elo’s Round About Tim, moving with fluid force. At the other extreme, you get Putrov himself in Vestris. Leonid Jacobson created this solo for a young Mikhail Baryshnikov, showing off his technique and his mercurial personality. Putrov minces and smirks his way through the shifts of tone, lacking style and authority.

Polunin appears in an approximate version of Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune, awkwardly staged. He looks uncertain in the Faun’s slow poses, though English National Ballet’s Elena Glurdjidze adds some welcome precision as the leading nymph.

Dana Fouras and Matiakis lifted the evening with a poised, intelligent performance of Two x Two. Russell Maliphant’s double solo puts both dancers into boxes of light, their swooping arms and curling torsos echoing each other.

Until 15 March. Box office 0844 412 4300.