Sadler’s Wells, London
September 13, 2018
A mix of dance new and old, the programme for Pure Dance, Natalia Osipova’s latest project away from The Royal Ballet looked a lot more promising than last year’s Sadler’s Wells venture. As she switches between styles with ease, it is certainly an evening that showed what a rare talent she is, as if we didn’t already know. It’s a show that also has three magnificent partners to help things along. The choreography was rather more mixed, however.
Highlight of the evening is Valse Triste, a new classical duet by Alexei Ratmansky to Sibelius’ sad and mostly slow waltz of the same title, for Osipova and American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg. It may be sensual rather than full of fireworks, but it has gala material written all over it.
Osipova and Hallberg have an easy partnership and clearly delight in dancing together. The choreography is beautifully hypnotic, helped by the couple’s easy partnership and clear delight in dancing with each other. Ratmansky may claim the dance is simply a response to the music (and it is intensely musical), but a strong sense of narrative is deeply veined, coming to the fore in the way she suddenly falls and is gently picked up near the end. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, however, given that the Sibelius’ score was originally composed for Death, a play written by his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt. Indeed, the whole pas de deux felt like an excerpt from a longer ballet.
After a slow opening section, the waltz speeds up. It’s as though the couple have woken up to their true feelings. They run, Osipova fearlessly launching herself into Hallberg’s arms in a headlong dive. After spinning her round, he sets her down, only to chase and catch her again and again. So, to that unexpected moment towards the end. I’m sure I wasn’t the only left wondering what happened next.
Osipova and Hallberg also opened the evening with the main pas de deux from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, one of the choreographer’s last works, made in 1975. It has never been one of my favourites. The nature of the ballet plays its part in the duet, a sort of elegy on true love, unusually not losing much when taken out of context as here. It helps, of course, that Osipova and Hallberg dance it so beautifully, the couple growing and glowing in the physicality and emotion of the dance, creating a perfect evocation of true, mature love.
Still with Hallberg, In Absentia, a new solo by Kim Brandstrup is a little gem, an easy combination of classical dance and theatre in which the choreographer’s cinematic background is all too clear. Alone with just a TV and some music, and surrounded largely by blackness, there’s a sense of solitude. Hallberg not only seems to be in a void physically but emotionally too, until there is that sense of memory of someone no longer there. There are some super lighting effects by Jean Kalman too.
Osipova and Jason Kittelberger impress in Six Years Later by Roy Assaf. It’s a simple but rather moving duet in which the couple run through different stages of a romantic relationship. The first section is a flashback to six years ago. To Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the couple are almost invariably close and often in constant physical contact as we witness friendship, love and frustration. Astutely observed, the often-fragmented dance really is like a conversation in movement. Coming up to date, the second part is lighter. Danced to the rather appropriate Reflections on my life by Marmalade, the couple reconnect.
Altogether less engaging is Iván Pérez’s new Flutter, a work that even the stellar pairing of Osipova and Jonathan Goddard struggle to rescue. Apparently, it’s about being on the edge and stepping into the abyss that is the unknown. It opens with a lot of playful running back and forth, the movement loose and full of hoppity, skippety steps and lifts; not that Osipova really does loose. But perhaps that’s fair enough, if the section is thought of as being about remembering, which does tie in with the ideas behind the music, ‘Archive’, the first movement of Mothertongue by Nico Muhly. The biggest problem is that, each time the couple retreat, they are clearly supposed to disappear into the upstage blackness, “revealing their presence upon their absence” as Pérez writes. Except that they don’t and it doesn’t, because they are always clearly visible. After a better and more introspective middle section, comes a sudden leap into the manic closing part. It makes about as much sense as the accompaniment, the fourth movement of Mothertongue, ‘Monster’, a truly awful sounding over-amplified and synthesised recitation of addresses and zip codes.
Pure Dance closes with Osipova alone, in a long white dress, in Ave Maria, a new solo by Yuka Oishi. It’s beautiful dance to beautiful music, although whatever Oishi says, you cannot escape what is behind the music. It closes with Osipova lit simply by a single spotlight. How unfortunate that was not the case throughout, rather than the strong multiple beams and over-powerful floor pattern that feature.
Pure Dance with Natalia Osipova is at Sadler’s Wells to September 16. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.