Best thing about Sadler’s Wells’s Pure Dance is Natalia Osipova the pure dance phenomenon

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Natalia Osipova – Pure Dance: Natalia Osipova, Jonathan Goddard, David Hallberg and Jason Kittelberger. Sadler’s Wells, London, 23.10.2019. (JPr)

Valse Triste – Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg<br/>(c) Johan Persson

The Leaves are Fading

Choreography – Antony Tudor
Music by Dvořák
Dancers – Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg

Left behind

Choreography – Jason Kittelberger
Music by Rachmaninoff
Dancers – Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger


Choreography – Iván Pérez
Music by Nico Mulhy
Dancers – Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard

In Absentia

Choreography – Kim Brandstrup
Music by Bach
Dancer – David Hallberg

Six Years Later

Choreography – Roy Assaf
Music from Deefly, Beethoven, Marmalade and Handel
Dancers – Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger

Ave Maria

Choreography – Yuka Oishi
Music by Schubert
Dancer – Natalia Osipova

Valse Triste

Choreography – Alexei Ratmansky
Music by Sibelius
Dancers – Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg

Sarah Crompton’s introduction in the programme told us how in the year since Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance premiered at Sadler’s Wells ‘the dancer has travelled the world – from New York to Sydney – with the show, learning about herself and about the works she has chosen to perform as she journeyed.’ Osipova introduces her dance programme by saying ‘I have chosen pieces that will be interesting for an audience and that my ability can express. I feel I can do them well but what I want is for people to feel there is so much beauty in dance, it can express everything, every mood, every feeling … It’s an amazing experience to try everything … I feel I have my theatre life with The Royal Ballet, there I am very happy, and where I feel I have a really nice repertory. But I also have another life where I am most fully myself … I like learning, I like exploring new things. It is all so exciting. I feel I am opening up new worlds.’

You can read into this what you will, but I wonder if Russian-born Osipova – though only in her early 30s – isn’t a little bored with the mainstream classical ballet repertoire. She is one of the leading ballerinas of her generation and describes David Hallberg – now a principal guest artist with The Royal Ballet – as ‘one of the best’, going on to add, ‘When we work together, we feel the same. We are like one blood group, we feel very mutual’. They were joined in Pure Dance by Jonathan Goddard and Osipova’s partner offstage, Jason Kittelberger, both dancers, as well as, choreographers.

Osipova curated the programme of seven short pieces from seven different choreographers with the longest lasting only 22 minutes. It was wonderful to see the excellent artistry of Osipova and Hallberg who are both at the height of their powers, but truthfully it was all a slightly downbeat affair. The contemporary works, in general, featured fractious relationships culminating in Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later where Osipova appears to challenge Kittelberger and ‘whips’ him with her elbows as if to say ‘Well?’ before later slapping him. It is the three rather more ‘classical’ pieces that work best: Yuka Oishi’s Ave Maria, is a solo for Osipova set to Schubert, and although it is not apparently a religious piece, there were arms held aloft apparently in supplication and there was an overriding sense of grief and loss; the late Antony Tudor’s opening 1975 The Leaves Are Fading saw Osipova at her very best displaying the fluidity of her arms and her quicksilver steps, with Hallberg impressing with the true mien of a danseur noble with requisite regal bearing, sailing jumps and smooth turns; finally, Alexei Ratmansky’s stylish closing Valse Triste – specially created by him to showcase the sheer perfection of Osipova’s chemistry with Hallberg – showed her pirouetting at speed, as well as, undertaking some awe-inspiring leaps into Hallberg’s arms.

When I saw the door for Kittelberger’s Left behind it took my mind back to Mats Ek’s Bye for Sylvie Guillem which was set to the last movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata. That was a lightweight affair using film projected on a door frame to suggest a woman escaping from, then returning to, her family and friends. Here there is no film but danced by Osipova and the choreographer – to the emotional soundtrack of Rachmaninoff’s Elégie Op.3 No.1 – it begins with Osipova slamming the door in Kittelberger’s face causing him to fall backwards before they explore – individually and together – the effect a person leaves when they leave. This was the first of the less-rewarding contemporary works that suffered from everything having been seen before and also the fact that the performances were to recorded music. The dancers have very little opportunity to breathe with the music and are always playing catch-up which, to a degree, makes what we see little different to the floor exercises of artistic gymnastics.

Iván Pérez’s Flutter saw Osipova strongly partnered by Jonathan Goddard. It did not seem to have any great narrative and – wearing some unflattering translucent white costumes – they just skittered (fluttered?) to-and-fro around the stage in and out of pools of lights. Were they supposed to be moths? Throughout there was a hint of flight from the movement of the duo against a background soundscape of Nico Muhly’s women’s voices speaking the numbers of addresses where the composer had lived.

Hallberg’s solo, Kim Brandstrup’s In Absentia, is something that would have clearly benefitted from live music. To stage right there is a hint of a lonely, dark apartment with Hallberg staring at a TV screen whose light casts huge silhouettes on the back wall. Is this a dancer watching a recording and reliving old memories? Hallberg’s elegiac solo was to Bach’s Chaconne in D-minor for solo violin and he was once again all elegant long lines and refined movement.

Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later had eclectic music by Deefly, Beethoven, Marmalade and Handel and had its moments, even if it was a rather strange piece as hinted above. Performed by Osipova and Kittelberger, there was almost as much standing and lying still as there was moving and at one point everything stopped for them to have a mimed conversation. It has apparently been extended since last year but at 22 minutes it seemed much longer than that as the audience are almost voyeurs as a couple go back and forth dissecting their emotional life from (I guess?) an initial encounter, through affection, estrangement, and – mentioned above – an almost interminable argument.

Pure Dance was never – on paper – likely to fill Sadler’s Wells for five performances and the swathes of empty seats on the first night sadly proved this is likely to be true. It does not help that there was only 72 minutes of ‘dance’ in an evening lasting two hours (with a short interval) and for long stretches the audience are looking at Sadler’s Wells’s red front curtain waiting for something to start. Osipova seemed admirably tireless and appeared in six of the seven pieces – and of course needed time to recover and change costumes – but there was even a long wait before In Absentia that she was not in.

Jim Pritchard

For more about Natalia Osipova – Pure Dance click here.