A film look at a superb, dramatic dancer: Force of Nature Natalia

Charlotte Kasner

One of the leading dancers of modern times, Natalia Osipova is in demand by audiences, ballet companies and choreographers worldwide. In Force of Nature Natalia, director Gerald Fox delivers a treat with a film documentary that follows a year in her life, taking the viewer backstage at the Royal Opera House and showing her creating roles, including in Arthur Pita’s new dance theatre work The Mother with Jonathan Goddard which has its London premiere at the SouthBank on June 20.

Fox has pretty much stuck to the style that became the norm for the Southbank Show on which he worked. There’s lots of archive film, interviews, filmed rehearsals and performance excerpts, and input critics.

What we see is a dancer open and honest in her approach to her work. Osipova is a superb, dramatic dancer with an intellect to match her outstanding technique. But what is also clear is that she is very much a product of the resources that her country has ploughed into dance, and of the Bolshoi, a theatre that since its beginnings has been renowned for the drama and excitement of its style.

The film provides an opportunity to see her dance in close-up with full value given to facial expressions that, even in small theatres, are usually lost to the un-enhanced eye. It was a joy to watch Natalia Markarova coaching her in La Bayadère and to see glimpses of her Giselle, where she looks like a throwback to the 1930s, fully embodying the role which she acknowledges as a favourite.

What is not in the film is anything about her one-time engagement to Ivan Vasiliev, with whom she left the Bolshoi for the smaller Mikhailovsky company, or her brief fling with Sergei Polunin.

Osipova is not unique in extending her repertoire into non-balletic dance, although many dancers, although unlike most she has chosen to do so while still in her classic prime. Few manage to be completely convincing after years of ballet training, but she looks very comfortable with floor work. She revealed that she not only does not take class every day but avoids the barre when working in contemporary mode.

A solid background for nearly a decade in the Bolshoi, promotion to solo roles very early on and a spell as a freelancer has made Osipova very self-contained and her infectious giggle, very much in evidence in rehearsal, belies her protestations of doubts and insecurities.

Natalia Osipova with Sidi Larbi CherkaouiPhoto Asterisk Films/Justine Waddell
Natalia Osipova with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Photo Asterisk Films/Justine Waddell

In an interview following the film, she explained that she found dance boring after her parents steered her into the studio following a career-changing injury ended her gymnastic ambitions. It was a drama teacher who inspired her.

We would do well to learn lessons from this. Technique without expression is indeed deathly dull once the mere spectacle has been taken into account. In many ways, the youthful 32-year Osipova is reminiscent of Lynn Seymour who also trained in an age when dancers had more of an all-round education in the arts than has become the norm in recent years.

Luckily, Natalia Osipova says she is happy in London, so many will have plenty of opportunities to see her dance live. For those who cannot, Force of Nature Natalia provides an introduction to her and her art. I just hope it was a positive enough experience for her to accede to more in the future. She deserves a more searching and sophisticated approach that provides a deeper insight into one of the best in the business.

Force of Nature Natalia is now on limited cinema release. Visit www.forceofnaturenatalia.com for details of dates, times and venues.

Force of Nature Natalia will also be broadcast on Sky Arts on June 18 and 21.

Natalia Osipova appears with Jonathan Goddard in Arthur Pita’s Mother at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall from June 20-22. Visit /www.southbankcentre.co.uk for details and tickets.