Ivan Putrov's Against the Stream: A Dream Becomes Performance
Dancer and entrepreneur Ivan Putrov talks to Culture Whisper about his forthcoming project, Against the Stream, and explains why he doesn’t really call it ‘a gala’
Except that its organiser, the former Royal Ballet Principal Dancer, now producer, Ivan Putrov, doesn’t like the term – not by itself, anyway.
‘I think the word gala is overused, it’s just become a pointer to something flashy that I don’t particularly like. So, I would say Against the Stream is a project, it’ll have its first performance at the London Coliseum.
‘I did call it "a gala night of celebration"; however, I wouldn’t like it to be called gala.’
Ivan Putrov, photo Mike Owen
Ivan Putrov is passionate about Against the Stream. A slight trim man, he is still very much the dancer, his boyish looks belying his age (he is now in his late 30s), his striking peridot-green eyes flashing with intensity as he talks about his latest project.
‘What I’d like to show, what it’s about, is to highlight those great individuals who have influenced the course and development of the dance theatre with their vision, with their art, their persistence. After them [ballet] was never the same.
‘They’re usually choreographers, they didn’t do what others did, they went against the stream.’
Hence the name Putrov chose for his current project. The choreographers represented in the programme range from George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins in New York, through Serge Lifar and Rudolf Nureyev in Paris, Agrippina Vaganova and Vasili Vainonen in St. Petersburg, and Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan in London.
Some of them – Ashton, MacMillan, Balanchine – are very familiar to London ballet audiences; others not so much. So, I asked Ivan Putrov to tell us a little more about his inclusion of Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Against the Stream.
‘When powerful masterpieces such as Suite en Blanc appear before me, it stays forever with me. (…) So, I talked to Mathieu Ganio [Paris Opera Ballet Étoile who’ll perform in Against the Stream] and in the words of Mathieu, it’s a very very French creation. It represents purity, it represents the white ballet that was invented by the French, its great school, its great tradition (…) and we can say that perhaps one of its pinnacles is Suite en Blanc.’
Mathieu Ganio, or rather ‘the divine Mathieu Ganio’ in the words of The New York Times, will dance a pas de deux from Suite en Blanc with his Paris Opera Ballet colleague Hannah O’Neill.
While we’re on the subject of Suite en Blanc (and there’s much more than that in Against the Stream), the work also has what Putrov calls ‘a little connection with me’:
‘Serge Lifar was from Kiev. I myself am from Kiev and won the Serge Lifar Ballet Competition. I danced mazurka from the same ballet.’
Against the Stream’s Ukrainian connection is reinforced by the participation of the tremendously exciting English National Ballet soloist Katja Khanukova, herself also – yes, you guessed it! – originally from Kiev.
Putrov himself will dance, too.
Ivan Putrov, Dance of the Blessed Spirits, photo Elliott Franks
So much for the Ukrainian contingent. In what is very much an international programme, New York will be represented by City Ballet Principal Maria Kowroski and the recently retired but ever so thrilling Joaquin de Luz; London provides one of the Royal Ballet’s most compelling Principals, Matthew Ball; the Bolshoi-trained Dmitri Zagrebin, now at the Royal Swedish Ballet, and Marcelo Gomes, formerly of American Ballet Theatre, complete the A-list cast announced so far.
It is Putrov’s hope that after its London premiere Against the Stream will be performed in many other cities, as has happened with his previous project, Men in Motion, which has toured Europe.
A second generation dancer – both his parents performed with the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet Theatre – Ivan Putrov joined Britain’s Royal Ballet in1998, became a Principal four years later and gave his final performance with the company in May 2010.
But even while still a full-time dancer, he became interested in the possibility of staging work, when he saw the Pet Shop Boys play live in London’s Trafalgar Square to accompany a screening of the masterpiece of Russian silent cinema Battleship Potemkin.
Seven years after that landmark performance, Ivan Putrov and Pet Shop Boys worked together in a new ballet, The Most Incredible Thing, which would go on to win an Evening Standard Theatre Award.
Putrov has been developing new projects ever since. The choice of works to go into any given project – he describes himself as its ‘curator’ – is normally discussed with the prospective performers.
‘I don’t want to work with people who are not interested. I only want to work with people who care, want to have a say (…) I wouldn’t want to tell a dancer, you do this, you do that, and the dancer goes and does it. The world of dance has developed so far that artists are now asked much more than they were a few centuries ago.’
When everything falls into place – and projects such as Against the Stream depend on so many imponderables – then the performance has the potential to stay with its audience for a long time.
For Ivan Putrov the aim is always the same: to realise theatre’s potential ‘to turn a dream into a performance.’
Against the Stream is at London Coliseum on 7 April 2019 at 19:00
Booking details here