Dance review: ‘Kings of the Dance’ returns to Segerstrom Center for the Arts

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Lucky Ivan Vasiliev. Of the five stars in “Kings of the Dance,” the popular touring show that returned to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend, he was the only one to receive the proper coronation that he –- and the others -- deserved.

Without Vasiliev, and without German-born choreographer Patrick De Bana, who spectacularly uncorked Vasiliev’s animal strengths in a melodramatic 10-minute solo, it would have been an underwhelming night.

“Kings,” which is co-produced by the Segerstrom Center and impresarios Sergei and Gaiane Danilian, has been uniting small groupings of the world’s greatest dancers since 2006. In addition to Vasiliev (of the Bolshoi), the current “Kings” incarnation features Guillaume Côté (National Ballet of Canada), Marcelo Gomes (American Ballet Theatre), David Hallberg (ABT and Bolshoi) and Denis Matvienko (Mariinsky Ballet).

Contemporary ballets were specially commissioned to demonstrate a fuller range of the dancers’ artistry than the leaps, spins and beats that made them famous. That’s the theory.


The reality is more problematic, and it hit home especially with the current production, seen Friday evening. The men aren’t actually shown to best advantage. The program selections, especially the solos, were repetitive in tone and gestural language. Indeed, if this was your first trip to the dance, you might reasonably assume that it is an art form of wild and hieroglyphic arm gesticulation.

Perhaps there is no way to fix this beast. It might be more fun to simply make it a thoroughly guilty pleasure. Most of the guys had their shirts off at some point, anyway.

Bigonzetti’s “Jazzy Five” was an introductory curtain opener of faux-bonding to jazz-pop vocal music by his son Federico (with one brief exception, the music was recorded). The arm flailing began here, along with a running theme of unthreatening and unfunny finger pointing. Bigonzetti did make a wonderful interlude for Hallberg, allowing him to show off his control and astonishing extensions and line.

In “Kaburias,” choreographer Nacho Duato adapted a 1991 work evoking kabuki theater and its male-female duality for Hallberg, to music by Afro-Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. The gaunt and somber-looking dancer stalked through this sometimes embarrassing piece with serious intention, lifting the black skirt (which converted to pants) and stuffing the fabric in his mouth.

“Tue,” which means “kill” in French, was Marco Goecke’s intense, twitchy and hyperactive solo for Guillaume Côté. This repetitive but fascinating character study matched the agitated tone of the late French singer Barbara. Côté was marvelous.

Gomes has portrayed many a nobleman in his career, and choreographer Jorma Elo turned him into a less exalted royal in “Still of King,” to selections by Haydn. Gomes made as much as he could of a thin stream of glides, pantomime and, finally, a collapse to the floor.

Matvienko was especially short-changed by Edward Clug’s “Guilty” (to Chopin). The Ukrainian-born dancer had little to make of Clug’s tight, internally focused gestures, turning himself into a puppet.

De Bana’s “Labyrinth of Solitude,” (to Vitali) brought a much welcome surge of vital energy to the stage. De Bana was mining a similar morose and existential crisis, but he approached it with a bolder language, one suited to his dancer. Vasiliev seesawed from barely contained grief to explosions of super-human physicality.

For the finale, Gomes put on his choreographer’s hat and Côté picked up his composer’s pencil for “KO’d.” This joyful, more classical piece showed glimmers of sophistication. Côté’s sonata was impressive, and he even took a break from dancing to play an onstage grand piano. He is a serious double threat. Gomes might be too, but it will take a different vehicle from this one to prove it.


David Hallberg, an American in Moscow

-- Laura Bleiberg