Natalia Osipova: "Pure Dance" on line

Till May 1st on Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage

By Maggie Foyer 28/04/2020
Natalia Osipova: "Pure Dance" on line
Natalia Osipova ion "Pure Dance" (ph. Rick Guest)

Dancers need to be brave and dancers need to work hard, but Natalia Osipova goes well beyond the norms on both scores. ‘These last six months I don’t think about what I will do next week or even the next day, I am thinking what I have to do in the next hour’, but her smile is one of enthusiasm rather than exhaustion. We were speaking at Sadler’s Wells where she was rehearsing for Pure Dance, her latest programme of new works, three new creations and dancing in five out of the six pieces. She is also busy preparing for the new Royal Ballet season where she dances the premiere performance of the new season in Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling. In August, she also made her debut in Costa Mesa, California, with the new creation by choreographer Vladimir Varnava, Isadora (a two-act ballet tribute to the pioneer of modern dance), in which she perfectly portrays the legendary Duncan. "I feel I understand Isadora" Osipova says "as dancers we always strive to gain artistic freedom and our unique individuality. Even as part of The Royal Ballet, I still fight for artistic freedom. Independence, talent, a revolutionary spirit – I think she possessed all these qualities. Also, she was a pioneer of feminism. She was in the right time and place to spread these important ideas”.

Osipova, now in her prime at 32, has never played safe. The year after she was promoted to principal at the Bolshoi Ballet in 2010 she and her partner, Ivan Vasiliev, left to join Mikhailovsky Ballet where she had more freedom. She has guested with many companies including American Ballet Theatre and it was after a guest performance with the London Royal Ballet that she was offered a principal contract and joined the company in 2013.

Her bravura technique and onstage charisma marked her out for stardom but her powerful dramatic talents and constant drive to expand her technical reach have brought her success in a wide range of roles. She is a bright and perky Lise in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée but she can draw you to the darkest recesses of the human soul as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling, and her Giselle is a fresh-minted masterpiece of dramatic intelligence.

While Osipova has received unanimous praise for her roles in the classical repertoire, her forays into contemporary and more adventurous roles have received mixed reviews. In the last few years programmes with fellow Russian super star, Sergei Polunin, have provided the freedom to explore sometimes translated into uneven quality and controversial themes. However they have also shown Osipova’s talents in dark comic roles like Arthur Pita’s Facada and Run Mary Run. Going freelance is a snakes and ladders game but fortunately she has her home base with the Royal Ballet. Indeed, few dancers secure in their principal status would risk reaching out to new choreographers and new dance ideas as she does. But in her tiny frame there is a strong passion: “Sometimes I want to feel more, more spontaneous, more madly, more deeply”.

I asked how she found new collaborators, “I speak to people I trust and I watch many, many videos”. Roy Assad was suggested by Ohad Naharin, director of Batsheva Dance Company. “When I saw Roy’s duet to the music of Beethoven, I fell in love straight away’. She trained in piano in Moscow and the Moonlight Sonata is one of her favourite pieces. ‘But it’s contemporary not classical ballet, so it’s not easy for me, but it’s more about the relationship. It’s about a couple who meet again after six years and it is very intimate and special, I really like it. I’m searching for choreographers in contemporary dance who understand me, who understand my energy, my strength, my weaknesses. Young choreographers like Roy, like Iván Pérez who go more from what they feel, where the movement creates the feeling. Choreography that just makes a beautiful movement: step, step or arm, arm’, and here she embroiders her words with elaborate ports de bras, ‘this is not interesting for me. I want people who understand me – my soul, my energy. If we understand each other the result is amazing. But this is not always happening”. Pérez, who has written for companies as diverse as the BalletBoyz and the Paris Opera, wrote the duet Flutter for her and Jonathan Goddard. “Iván’s a fantastic guy, really fresh and open”.

Her enthusiasm for new partnerships was palpable. She was particularly excited to be working with Yuka Oishi, a former dancer with Hamburg Ballet and a new choreographic voice who wrote Ave Maria for her. “It’s the first time I’ve worked with a woman choreographer’, Natalia said, ‘It’s very intense, she creates what she feels, and says so much with every step. She creates on a ballet base but it’s a unique combination of plasticity and Japanese wisdom. It was very easy to work with her because she has a big heart and the solo makes me feel good inside”.

As a dramatic dancer she loves the ballets of Kenneth MacMillan. “I love Anastasia, it’s so dramatic, when I dance it I feel really like an actress. He is the master of the duet, like the Balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet or the duets in Manon – incredible”. And are they very difficult? She smiled, “it’s difficult for my partner, but not for me. I am free to dance. (Here she mimes being thrown around!) But, yes, for the boy it’s difficult - but it’s fantastic”.

Natalia has only danced the role of Mary Vetsera in Mayerling once and with Edward Watson, “He’s one of my favourite partners – we have such good energy together. The last pas de deux, it was the best performance in my life, it felt like our hearts were beating together. It’s a really dark role but it’s incredible and I did it!”. 

And how did you get to know Vladimir Varnava? "I've known Vladimir for a long time and I wanted to work with him on a new version of Cinderella. I love his work, that ballet and especially Prokofiev’s music, but we never actually managed to make it happen. So, when I was approached to do a dance program dedicated to Isadora Duncan, choreographed by Vladimir, we both thought it would be the perfect opportunity to use Prokofiev’s beautiful Cinderella  in a new way. After all, Isadora’s life was punctuated with obstacles and tragedy, just like that of Cindarella".

This petite dancer with a big heart and a big jump who leapt to our attention as Kitri when the Bolshoi Ballet visited in 2010, has now made London her home. She apologises that her English is still not good and when she gets excited she breaks into a torrent of Russian. She enjoys the galleries and theatres – when she gets time. She admits that she travels too much and likes just to go outside and sit and watch people. For many years she has created definitive performances of the classics and now she is also an arts entrepreneur, bringing new work to the world’s stages.



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