Dear oh dear oh dear…. where to even begin?
Perhaps with an explanation: the one-star rating of this review belongs solely to Natalia Osipova, who brought a measure of grace and professionalism to this misbegotten farrago of a programme, which does nothing for ballet and even less for Sergei Polunin’s attempt to resurrect a career which he himself has been so adept at sabotaging.
The evening consists of three pieces; and as irony seems not to register with this most self-absorbed of all dancers, the last is about Narcissus, the youth of Greek mythology who was so deeply in love with himself he died of it; whereas the first is about Icarus, the man who flew too close to the sun and fell to earth when his wax wings melted.
In the middle there’s a veritable dog’s breakfast of a piece, called Tea or Coffee, about which the less said the better.
Icarus, the night before the Flight is a pas-de-deux extract from an old Bolshoi ballet, very typical of the Soviet era. As a piece of history it’s moderately interesting, in its overwrought gesturing and intense partnering, with much bravura jumping for the male dancer. Polunin and Osipova are Icarus and his beloved Aeola; he must choose between his flight and her love.
They dance well together, and Osipova in particular brings passion and commitment, as well as her unparalleled technique, to the role. With Polunin, however, the problems which are to become very obvious in Narcissus and Echo are already apparent here.
Choreographically Icarus is weak, a pale shadow of its much more famous predecessor, Spartacus. The entire production, including choreography, design and painting for the computer graphics which are projected onto the stage, comes from Vladimir Vassiliev.
In his day Vassiliev was a spectacular dancer - one of the 20th century’s greatest - and an unforgettable Spartacus; so, when he takes a bow at the end of this most unsatisfactory piece, you can’t help but applaud him for what he was, rather then what he’s just given us.
After a brief pause we are served Tea or Coffee, but what it all amounts to is anybody’s guess. What is not in doubt is that it should never have made it as far as Sadler’s Wells.
Andrey Kaydanovskiy’s choreography, such as it is, consists of the two couples prancing around, pushing and shoving to music which is a loud electronic bowdlerisation of Bach and Villas Boas. Every so often crockery crashes to floor, the lights go down and somebody dies. Or not, as the case may be. It really is a case of why, oh why?
After the interval comes the meat of the evening, Narcissus and Echo, choreographed by Sergei Polunin himself with a little help from former Royal Ballet mates.
For this Polunin comes en déshabillé, his modesty just about preserved by a bejewelled and glittering fig-leaf, which might have provided a distraction if by now you weren’t nearly comatose with boredom.
Osipova as Echo, Polunin as Narcissus, production images
The piece starts with a longish ensemble dance for Narcissus and four Theban boys. And here’s the thing: suddenly it hits you that the most extraordinarily gifted male dancer of his generation no longer stands out from the crowd, bejewelled fig leaf notwithstanding. His jump no longer cuts through the air with the effortless ease it once did; in split jumps the leg behind often trails; his landings are heavier and horribly untidy.
Osipova comes on as the besotted nymph Echo - she, too, covered in glitter and trailing silver strands. While she tries in vain to attract the attention of Narcissus, by now slumped over an orange ball where he spends most of the piece, the nymphs and the Theban boys engage in a mild Sylvan orgy, with much jolly dancing and some distinctly ropey partnering.
And so it goes, until Narcissus comes to, paces the stage in much overwrought agonising and is eventually sucked down a steaming hole… while close up projections of Polunin's face appear on two screens high above the stage.
The concept for Narcissus and Echo comes from David LaChapelle, the man responsible for the viral video of Polunin dancing to Hozier’s Take Me To Church. His idea was to set the whole thing on another planet; probably the planet currently inhabited by Sergei Polunin, which clearly bears no relation to this earth where the rest of us live.
The music, by Ilan Eshkeri, consists of extended sweeps of cliché, with some flutes (it’s the nymphs, you see?) and ominous crescendos of drums as Narcissus approaches his end.
Go, if you must, but be warned: Project Polunin sends you into the London night in a cranky kind of mood, not really the feeling you hope for after a night at the ballet.
|What||Project Polunin Review|
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
14 Mar 17 – 18 Mar 17, 19:30 Sat matinee 14:30 End Time TBC
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells|