Much of the press and publicity surrounding Natalia Osipova’s newly commissioned ballets has commented on the fact that, for a ballerina coming to the end of her career, to experiment and push against the rigours of classical dance is a normal progression. But Osipova, at just 30, is arguably at her absolute peak. To look around for something entirely different – something to challenge your own and others expectations – shows a commendable strength of spirit and curiosity, even if it might not seem the most obvious decision.
Does it work? Largely. The middle piece, ‘Qutb’, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is hauntingly elemental, with a thunderously pounding soundtrack. Osipova and her two make companions – James O’Hara and Jason Kittelberger – move as a great rippling mass of elegant flesh, writhing and laconically swirling like a priestess and her attendants, summoning god knows what, against the plain and effective backdrop of a looming orange sun.
Sadly, the music in ‘Silent Echo’ detracts rather than adds to the dancing and choreography by Russell Maliphant – the melody is flat, un-dynamic and dull – and the whole piece suffers somewhat. It’s no fault of Osipova and her on (and off) stage partner Sergei Polunin, who give it there all. Polunin’s solo dance is especially stirring and Osipova’s turns are marvellous – she spins so fast and so cleanly that she blurs.
The most visually distinct segment – ‘Run Mary Run’ – has the strongest narrative, with a soundtrack by the Shangri-las and other 1960’s girls groups. The story it tells is not original – a young couple, hopelessly in love, slowly fall down the rabbit hole of drugs, excess and darkness. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t told with charm, sweetness and a lot of fun; and there is something pleasantly jarring in observing 60’s pop dance moves executed with extreme balletic precision, not to mention a huge red beehive.
Osipova has spoken of her belief that, somewhere in the world, is the one choreographer who can make her dance her absolute best. And what this collaboration proves is that, even if every act doesn’t hit the mark, it will be extremely interesting to watch her try and find them.