Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 27 August
Natalia Osipova is one of the most famed ballerinas of her generation. At only 33 years of age, she has spent most of her professional career as a principal dancer, and has performed around the world with companies like the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Currently a principal with the Royal Ballet, her need to experiment with more contemporary styles of dance has been sustained with a vigorous side career as an in-demand freelance dancer, and now curator and star of her own program – "Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance". Produced by Sadler’s Wells and co-produced by the New York City Center, it is quite an achievement for the Sydney Opera House to have brought her here in a program of six short works (four duets and two solos). Astonishingly, Osipova dances in all but one solo, while three male dancers – David Hallberg, Jonathon Goddard and Jason Kittelberger – share the partnering duties between them.
For me, the highlights of this program were the two pieces danced by Natalia Osipova and Hallberg; the main pas de deux from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, and another choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky specifically for the pair called Valse Triste. Alone, Hallberg and Osipova have such different qualities – he has a reticient, understated Apollonian elegance that contrasts with her fiery Dionysiac intensity. But together they are perfectly wonderful. You can see how much they enjoy dancing together. He seems to draw strength from her energy and vice versa.
Osipova dances another two more contemporary duets with Jonathon Goddard and Jason Kittelberger which are good but not outstanding. Rounding out the program are solos from Hallberg (In Absentia, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup) and Osipova (Ave Maria, choreographed by Yuka Oishi). They’re both very good, but I particularly liked Hallberg dancing In Absentia; Jean Kalman’s lighting design saw Hallberg’s solitude accentuated by the changing stature of his own accompanying shadow.
But what makes Osipova so special? And is she really worth all the hype?
To the latter, I would answer in the affirmative. Technically, she has a strength and power that seem almost superhuman. Her ballon is glorious, but she does not appear light as thistle, floating through the air as we might expect of a ballerina in the Romantic tradition; instead she hurtles through it like a bolt of lightning thrown by Zeus himself. There is a radiance and a self-belief in her dancing that has a semi-spiritual quality. Mikhail Baryshnikov has been quoted as saying, “The essence of great art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure”, and it sounds almost... too simple, but there is something in that, and it certainly captures some of her appeal.
Describing someone as being "so extra" is often thought of and used as an insult, but when it comes from a place that is authentic – as it does with Osipova – it can be understood as a reflection of her dramatic prowess, courage and inspired ability to find meaning in dance. Because when Osipova soars, for a brief moment in time we fly with her, imagining the intensity of experience she embodies while being able to leave it at the theatre door when the performance is finished. And for those in the audience, perhaps the real test of her power as a ballerina and an artist will come several decades from now when we will say in conversation, “Ahh but I saw Osipova… she was so extra!”
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Pictured top is Natalia Osipova in 'Flutter' by Iván Perez. Photo: Daniel Boud.