Kings of the Dance: Opus 3, City Center, New York

That “opus” in the title lays it out: this is not your mother’s all-star gala. There will be no bravado solo from Don Quixote in sight. But even “opus” did not prepare the eager, adoring audience on the last stop of the international Kings of the Dance tour for how little dancing would transpire. On a bare stage in one solo after another, Marcelo Gomes of American Ballet Theatre, David Hallberg of ABT and the Bolshoi, Guillaume Coté of the National Ballet of Canada, Ivan Vasiliev of the Mikhailovsky, and Denis Matvienko of the Mariinsky mainly twitched.

Whether to torch songs, a Haydn symphony or an execrable reggae-rap-jazz concoction, this United Nations of tic-laden dance – with the choreographers from Italy (Mauro Bigonzetti), Spain (Nacho Duato), Finland (Jorma Elo), Romania (Edward Clug) and Germany (Patrick de Bana and Marco Goecke) – applied itself to a single hoary subject: alienation. “What is this thing called my body?” the dancers seemed to ask as they scrutinised a contorted hand, manoeuvred their leg with an arm, stared into the middle distance, or drew squiggles in the air. No answers were forthcoming.

Even brilliant solos are hard to absorb in bulk; how much more difficult these uniformly shapeless numbers. Whatever edge the work gained in relegating dancers known for grace and pyrotechnics to a regimen of awkward, unpretty stuff it lost by sheer redundancy.

Still, two of the danseurs managed to transcend their material. Tall, blond Hallberg’s grippingly strange intensity overpowered the foolishness of the gymnastic lamentation handed him. Short, adorable Vasiliev invested his descent into angst with a Harpoesque poignancy. Plus, the former Bolshoi star tossed in a few irrelevant heroic jumps that caused the show’s artsy pretensions instantly to collapse. What a relief! We could stop glowering for a minute.

Better yet were the last 10 minutes, when Gomes, doubling as a choreographer, presented his modest ensemble piece KO’d – and a glimpse of what Kings of the Dance might have been with more discerning curation. The men streamed in from the wings leaping. They popped into the air in canon. Several clustered while others dispersed. The stage took on form and the dancers – freed of contrived quirks – finally looked individual.

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