In Pure Dance Osipova Can Seem to be Speaking a Language Not Her Own

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance: Sadler’s Wells, London, 14.9.2018. (JO’D)

Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg (c) Johan Persson

Artistic Director and Dancer – Natalia Osipova

Dancers – David Hallberg, Jonathan Goddard, Jason Kittelberger

Choreography – Anthony Tudor, Iván Peréz, Kim Brandstrup, Roy Assaf, Alexei Ratmansky, Yuka Oishi


The Leaves are Fading by Antony Tudor: danced by Natalia and David Hallberg
Flutter by Ivan Perez: danced by Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard
Valse Triste by Alexei Ratmansky: danced by Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg
Six Years Later by Roy Assaf: danced by Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger
In Absentia by Kim Brandstrup: danced by David Hallberg
Ave Maria by Yuka Oishi: danced by Natalia Osipova

Pure Dance is the second collaboration between Sadler’s Wells and the principal of The Royal Ballet, Natalia Osipova. It is co-produced with New York City Center. This might explain the choice of choreography, partners and the overall tone of the event. While British audiences have a welcome opportunity to see work by Anthony Tudor and Alexei Ratmansky, the piece that ends the programme, Yuka Oishi’s Ave Maria, seems kitsch. Surrounded by haze and star-like pinpoints of light arranged to Art Deco effect, Natalia Osipova performs a solo to a recording (all the music used is recorded) of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, sung by Barbara Bonney. The white dress she wears makes reference to her role as the ethereal Giselle. It all looks very out of place on the Sadler’s Wells stage, but Deanna Durbin singing the Schubert in the 1940 film It’s A Date might be part of the collective American imagination.

‘Dance is an amazing language,’ writes Natalia Osipova in the programme notes, ‘whether it’s classical dance or contemporary or any other style.’ Pure Dance sees her en pointe and barefoot as she moves with different partners between the classical (or neo-classical) and contemporary styles over five dance works. The evening also includes a solo for one of her partners, American Ballet Theatre principal, David Hallberg, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup.

Hallberg is the partner for the Osipova en pointe; first in a duet from Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading, later in a work created on the two dancers by Ratmansky, Valse Triste (Sibelius). The Tudor, to music by Dvořák, is intricate, with rapid footwork and frequent changes of direction. Ratmansky’s interpretation of classicism is more fluid, its entrechats, pirouettes and bourrées woven into a looser, freer-looking movement style (as it was in his 24 Preludes for The Royal Ballet in 2013). The two works contain an identical lift in which Natalia Osipova arches backward, high in the air, with breath-taking exactitude and expression.

It is perhaps because she is, by training or by nature, so connected to the air that in the contemporary pieces Osipova can often seem to be speaking a language that is not her own. Dancing with Jonathan Goddard in Flutter, by Iván Peréz, and above all with Jason Kittelberger in Six Years Later, by Roy Assaf (during which they have a kind of prolonged ‘shoulder fight’ to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata), she appears too light, too little connected to the floor. She watches her partner, at times, as if to learn from him. Ave Maria might be kitsch, but Yuka Oishi, like Arthur Pita in the final section of Facada (2014), keeps the dancer upright.

Kim Brandstrup’s In Absentia combines the contemporary and the classical in a single work: press ups and the grand manège. Eight-minutes long, to music by Bach, it is framed by the choreographer’s usual attention to light (from a television set) and shadow. A bored or troubled David Hallberg rises from a chair to move around the stage with expansive but fragile ease. The dancer shows feeling in every gesture. In contrast to his recent, complex Life is a Dream for Rambert, Kim Brandstrup makes less mean more.

John O’Dwyer

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