Lara Gregorians sees ballet’s biggest stars in a new light
Natalia Osipova is quite simply one of the biggest and brightest stars in the dance world today. After major success in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, Osipova joined the Royal Ballet as a principal in 2013, and has since been providing UK audiences with sell-out performances in some of classical ballet’s greatest roles. This brand new production, however, sees Ospiova pushed in a completely different direction. Searching for new layers to her artistic expression, Osipova and Sadler’s Wells have commissioned three pieces by a trio of contemporary choreographers, allowing Osipova to move away from her classical training to experiment in the contemporary genre.
Qutb, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, saw Osipova joined on stage by Jason Kittelberger and James O’Hara. Beginning in a sea of absolute darkness, the trio gradually emerged as elements of floating shapes and limbs. Under the strengthening orange glow, so beautifully rendered by set and lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli, their bodies began to materialise and their slow and subtle motions rippled through one another. The piece’s strengths most definitely came in these moments of connectedness. As independent dancers the trio move very differently – there was no overarching cohesiveness or mimicry in their movements. However, through touches and turns, the three would unite. Even as one body momentarily disconnected, the others would continue their motion so quietly and naturally in anticipation of their bodies finding each other once more. Qutb was a beautiful example of Osipova’s developing conversation in the contemporary genre – listening, learning, and responding.
In the following two pieces Osipova was joined by ballet bad boy and offstage partner, Sergei Polunin. As the ballet world’s answer to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, there was great anticipation for their UK partnering debut, and it only grew through the tense opening of Russell Maliphant’s Silent Echo. Circling the stage, the pair shot in and out of dramatic spotlighting, captivating the audience with every twist and turn. There were truly breath-taking moments; she spun faster than my eyes could register, and he leapt higher and with more tricks than most can. But unfortunately, the whole piece ended up feeling just like an amalgamation of tricks. Their dynamism and lines are unfaultable, and the start promised beautiful moments of tension and suspended motion, but a certain power was missing.
The final piece, Run Mary Run by Arthur Pita, was inspired by the music of ‘60s girl group The Shangri-Las, and followed a clear narrative of two lovers amidst a life of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Taking on a completely different tone to the previous two pieces, the piece jolted between moments of overt cuteness and obscure darkness. As endearing as it was to see two of today’s greatest dancers cracking out classics like the mashed potato – and clearly having a great time at that – the overall effect was rather confusing and slightly underwhelming. Teetering between comical and heart wrenching, neither emotion was fully captured.
This is Osipova’s exploration in dance. With a team of stellar partners and choreographers, Osipova is developing a language that challenges how audiences are used to seeing her, and this triple bill is our invitation to catch a glimpse of her journey. A lot of the show rides on her exquisite talent and captivating presence, but surely that’s as good a reason as any. Even though their duets didn’t quite live up to the hype, it’s worth catching any opportunity to see Osipova and Polunin in action.
Photo credits: Nikolai Gulakov, Alastair Muir and Bill Cooper
The Natalia Osipova programme runs at Sadler’s Wells until 3rd July and returns once more from 27th September – 1st October. Catch it also at Edinburgh Festival Theatre from 12-14th August