Natalia Osipova in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden

Posted: May 26th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden

The Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, May 22

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in Romeo and Juliet
David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova in Romeo and Juliet (©ROH, 2019. Photographed by Helen Maybanks)

Where are the great ballet partnerships of our time? Natalia Osipova is in need of one and the Royal Ballet doesn’t seem able to oblige; it’s as if her name alone is enough to fill the house, which on the evidence of this evening it is. But a ballet like Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is not about one name but two, ideally in a partnership we can believe in. Never once in three acts does guest artist David Hallberg’s Romeo convince us he is in love with Osipova’s Juliet, let alone that he is willing to die for her. That leaves Osipova in the position of emotional orphan; she has to make it up herself and is only half successful. MacMillan choreographed steps as expressions of emotion; Hallberg dances his steps in a fury of effort but nothing transpires emotionally while his gait and demeanour have not sloughed off the tropes of a romantic prince. Once he flees Verona in Act III, however, Osipova owns the entire stage because she is not constrained by anything but her wilfulness and a sleeping potion. Her frenetic indecision echoes the childlike effusion of her first entrance with Helen Crawford’s (rather too youthful) nurse and the intransigence of her refusal to accept Tomas Mock’s Paris. As with all her classical roles, you can read her from the back of the house, but when it comes to MacMillan’s central love duets on which the entire emotional force of the ballet rests she is muted by the lack of chemistry with her partner. If nothing exceptional is created by the improbable union of these two lovers, what can possibly unite the Montagues and the Capulets? Although MacMillan ends his ballet in the tomb, he leaves the aftershock with his audience. In a sense we take on the role of Shakepeare’s two warring families to ‘Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things’. Without that catalyst the star-cross’d lovers are uncross’d and we are cheated of the cathartic experience of the love story; it’s just an evening at the Royal Opera House watching names doing steps to lovely music. 

Romeo’s two mates, the mischievous Mercutio (James Hay) and the more level-headed Benvolio (Tristan Dyer) find themselves in a similar dilemma to Juliet’s. Without Romeo’s full-blooded participation they become a polite trio of gatecrashers to the ball that is only distinguishable from the assembled nobles by their masks and their choreographic exploits. Hay in particular shines in his variations but his role is not sufficiently defined with endearing impudence for us to feel his loss — and to understand Romeo’s — when he is killed at the hand of Ryoichi Hirano’s Tybalt (who could do with a little road rage).

When the causal relationships between the major figures and events in the ballet break down like this the tragedy loses its traction and the story just continues on autopilot until all the protagonists are dead and the curtain falls. It is the responsibility of the staging to take back control but Julie Lincoln and Christopher Saunders seem not to have had much success this evening. At least MacMillan’s crowd scenes keep the production going: the bustle of the townspeople, the tradesmen, the conspicuous harlots (Itziar Mendizabal, Claire Calvert and Mayara Magri) and mandolin dancers led by Valentino Zucchetti are all very much alive. But for all the financial resources available to the company — including the dozen or so sponsors and supporters listed in the program for the run of Romeo and Juliet — this is a production that lacks the care and attention to detail that the Royal Ballet should be devoting to the maintenance of its classical repertoire.

The set is a reworking by Nicholas Georgiadis of his original designs for the 1965 production in which MacMillan had wanted a realistic Verona. Georgiadis, who died soon after completing this makeover in 2001, did not have MacMillan on hand to guide him; his revised Verona is an abstracted framework, with the famous balcony looking more like the upper floor of a building site than the quattrocento palace it once was. It’s perhaps a disadvantage to remember the original design as the ballet’s spatial qualities were contained within it; the volumes here are less well defined.

Definition is also a problem in certain passages for the orchestra under the baton of Pavel Sorokin. It is possibly just an off evening all round, but with Osipova as Juliet this should have been an event to celebrate.


Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: September 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells, September 13

Natalia Osipova

Natalia Osipova (photo: Rick Guest)

Natalia Osipova is one of the great exponents of classical ballet because of both her fearless technique and her interpretive sensibility. That she is interested in exploring other forms of dance is no surprise, but her choice of choreographers for Pure Dance, a Sadler’s Wells co-production with New York City Centre, doesn’t always work in her favour. In an interview with Sarah Crompton she says, “…I have chosen the choreographers and partners I wanted to work with and through them I express myself.” It is on this question of expression that Pure Dance hinges. A great classical ballet like Giselle or Swan Lake — or a more contemporary masterpiece like John Cranko’s Onegin — requires the faithful expression of its choreography rather than the self expression of its prima ballerina. An interpreter like Osipova can step inside such choreography and express it on an emotional, spiritual and physical level because all these levels exist within it and within her. The irony of Pure Dance is that in a program she has designed to explore new avenues of expression we can’t always find her.

The meditative duet from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading is not an ideal opener; divorced from its choreographic and scenic context it appears out of nowhere, but Tudor’s understanding of classical technique and gesture gives Osipova something to which she can give life. Everything necessary to the work is contained within it and although neither Osipova nor her partner David Hallberg seem entirely at ease at the beginning, their interpretation grows with the notion of memory that Tudor evokes with such refinement to Antonin Dvořák’s chamber string music. There is an autumnal sense in the work that is not only associated with falling leaves but with memories of falling in love; the recurring theme in the choreography is falling away and being swept up and here Osipova and Hallberg express the delicacy and poignancy of the emotion without having to add anything extraneous.

The contrast with Iván Pérez’s Flutter, choreographed on Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue, is marked. The manner in which Osipova and partner Jonathan Goddard repeat their opening sequence of capering down stage like two commedia dell’ artefigures from darkness into Nigel Edwards’ light and withdraw again is a metaphor for the emergence and disappearance of expression. There is fine partnering between the two, but Goddard’s technical affinity with the choreography upstages Osipova who is left to emote on its surface in the absence of an appropriate vehicle for her.

In Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later Osipova shares the stage with Jason Kittelberger, with whom she appeared two years ago in her first Sadler’s Wells production. This is a more successful balance between the two in what is essentially a choreographed dialogue between two old friends with qualities that recur in much Israeli choreography of tenderness juxtaposed with violence. The dynamics of the relationship are suggested by a progression from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to Marmalade’s Reflections of my life where it is cut off in mid flight with an abrupt blackout. The choreography focuses on what lies between the two rather than on what each brings to the dialogue; six years before might have been more interesting.

As soon as Osipova and Hallberg begin to dance Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste there is a welcome sense of connection between performers, choreography and music that lights up the stage. Ratmansky knows the qualities of both dancers and how to bring them out. There is also a Russian connection; as Osipova explains to Crompton, “When the three of us are standing together we feel like close souls.” Here, as in Tudor’s work, all expression is contained within the choreography and both dancers come alive in getting inside it.

The program also includes two solos, In Absentia for Hallberg by Kim Brandstrup, and Ave Maria for Osipova by Yuka Oishi. Brandstrup uses Bach’s haunting Chaconne in D minor for solo violin as the basis of a performative rehearsal, as if the music is circulating in Hallberg’s head while he sits listening or gets up to go over the steps he has just learned. It’s an intimate portrait that is given another dimension by Jean Kalman’s lighting. In Oishi’s Ave Maria Franz Schubert’s music, Adam Carrée’s lighting and Stewart J. Charlesworth’s white dress frame Osipova in playful innocence while Oishi’s lightning quick classical steps pay tribute to her devilish technique. Osipova is clearly having fun but it’s a confectionary portrait that starkly underlines the difference between self-expression and expressive choreography.