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Against the Stream and She Persisted

Posted on April 24, 2019

Erik Woolhouse and ENB Artists in Pina Bauschs Le Sacre du printemps c Laurent Liotardo

In the last few years, allegations of sexual impropriety have run rampant through the performing arts, assaulting film producers, opera and ballet directors, choreographers and performers as they pass. Dance has developed a powerful social conscience, and gender identity is such a hot topic that entire programmes are planned around it.

For his second excursion into producing, Ivan Putrov recently organised a single performance, Against the Stream, “about male innovation in ballet” by those “whose influence changed the world of dance forever.” Nearly all the choreographers he honoured at the London Coliseum were male: Serge Lifar, Vasily Vainonen, Jerome Robbins, Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Rudolf Nureyev, with Twyla Tharp and Agrippina Vaganova closing the evening almost as an afterthought. Putrov danced alone once and again in a trio; the remaining selections were mostly pas de deux, performed by leading members of the Paris Opéra Ballet, The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Pictured: Performances from Ivan Putrov’s Against The Stream gala at The London Coliseum. (1) Dimitry Zagrebin in Flames of Paris. (2) Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri in Ashton’s Awakening Pas de Deux. (3-4) Mayara Magri, Matthew Ball and Ivan Putrov in Kenneth MacMillan’s Images of Love.  Photographs by Elliott Franks.

Having showcased three female choreographers in the 2016 programme She Said, English National Ballet’s director Tamara Rojo took up a current feminist rallying cry and titled her latest selection She Persisted, again highlighting the choreographic creativity of women. Coincidentally, these three works revolved around women: the artist Frida Kahlo in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings; Nora in Stina Quagebeur’s taut commission based on Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House; and the woman, often called the Sacrificial Victim, in Pina’s Bausch’s riveting interpretation of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

What an evening. Women celebrating women in beautifully designed, well-lit pieces, imaginative in approach, substantial in structure and content. I was lucky to see equally impassioned performances from Katja Khaniukova, Crystal Costa, and Precious Adams in the respective leading roles. Distinctive artists all, they seemed motivated from within, moving because the dramatic reality demanded it rather than the fixed sequence of their steps.

Performances like that one offer intriguing insights into the lives of women, as artists and as private individuals. Putrov’s grab-bag, however, didn’t reveal much about either the choreographers or the men who showed their work, except to the most experienced viewers.

You have to have watched a lot of ballet to identify the stylistic distinctions between Lifar’s Suite en blanc, Robbins’ In G Major, Balanchine’s Diamonds and Nureyev’s Cinderella. Similarly dressed in white tights and dedicated by necessity to supporting their partners, the men in the excerpted pas de deux had little opportunity to show themselves.

Pictured: Performances from She Persisted. (1-3) Katja Khaniukova as Frida Kahlo with artists of English National Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s in Broken Wings. (4-5) Artists of English National Ballet in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring. (6-8) Crystal Costa with artists of English National Ballet in Stina Quagebeurs Nora. Photographs by Laurent Liotardo.

Marcelo Gomes made a dashing man about town in Tharp’s Sinatra Suite, drawing the sophisticated outline of a character without quite inhabiting it, but neither Putrov’s body or energy fit comfortably into Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, a brief solo created for Anthony Dowell whose pure line and innate reticence seemed to shape the space around him.

The trio from MacMillan’s long-unseen Images of Love would have been fascinating if the dappled lighting hadn’t hidden so much of it. In the end, only Robbins’ Suite of Dances displayed dancer and dancemaker at their best. Joaquin de Luz, who recently retired from New York City Ballet, and the cellist Urška Horvat, who accompanied him, together transformed his solo into a memorable trio for his nuanced dancing, her musicality, and their subtle responses to each other. Anyone can achieve this, male or female, but it doesn’t happen often.

Main image: Erik Woolhouse and artists of English National Ballet in Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du printemps. Photograph by Laurent Liotardo.


Barbara Newman’s books about ballet include Grace under Pressure; The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories for children; a volume of interviews, Striking a Balance, and its follow-up, Never Far from Dancing. She has written for Dancing Times since 1984 and served as the dance critic for Country Life from 1990 to 2016. She archives all her work at

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