Showing posts with label Natalia Osipova. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Natalia Osipova. Show all posts

Monday, September 18, 2017

Local heroes come home... to Hull

Xander Parish in Ballet 101 (photo from the Yorkshire Post)

Maybe it's something in the Humber's water, but an inordinate number of superb British ballet dancers have come out of the pleasing historic town of Hull, which is often termed - most unfairly - 'the armpit of England'. Those dancers include Kevin O'Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, and Xander Parish, the first British dancer in the Mariinsky, so it's worth celebrating - and that's exactly what Hull, currently the UK City of Culture, did on Saturday.

Having refurbished and built new sections for its New Theatre, it was an inspired idea to call in the Royal Ballet for a reopening gala - the company's first visit to the town in 30 years. Hull's home-grown stars were out in force. Parish put in an appearance out of Russia; alongside him were his sister Demelza Parish, a Royal Ballet first artist; Joseph Caley, now a principal with English National Ballet; Elizabeth Harrod, an RB soloist, aka Mrs Steven McRae; and the local ballet school that can really take the credit for laying the foundations of their success, the Skelton Hooper School of Dance and Theatre, brought their current youngsters to strut their stuff alongside.

(photo: Yorkshire Post)
The theatre is an art deco gem, full of 1920s Egyptian-reference detail, done up in style even down to the fonts on the signage. For the evening it was packed with all ages, newcomers, seasoned balletomanes and everything in between: elderly or disabled ballet fans in wheelchairs, schoolchildren guzzling crisps and sweets throughout and cheering to the rafters as soon as the music stopped, little girls turning cartwheels in the shiny new foyers. Outside, another 5,000 people braved the chilly night air to watch a relay to the big screen in the park. In the afternoon, a hundred local children had participated in Take Flight, an outdoor performance led by the brilliant young Australian dancer and choreographer Calvin Richardson, inspired by Swan Lake. Richardson himself proved one of the gala's highlights, performing a stunningly-shaped contemporary Dying Swan solo to Saint-Saëns, with amazing freeze-frame arms.

But then, almost everything in this generous programme was a highlight. William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude - that Schubert finale for three girls and two boys that leaves you  breathless just from watching  - was a tremendous opener, with Marianela Nuñez, Beatriz Stix-Brunnell, Akane Takada, James Hay and Valentino Zucchetti (though the lime green and magenta sets the teeth on edge a bit). A warm introduction from O'Hare paid tribute to his own Hull background, then introduced Parish for a star turn in Ballet 101 by Eric Gauthier - a dazzling array of ballet poses interacting with narration and showing off Parish's steely technique. Parish (whom I interviewed for The Independent a few years back) had set off for St Petersburg after feeling he'd had to carry one spear too many; now the Russian company has moulded him into a magnificently princely principal, his mile-long limbs and super-wide wingspan enhanced by the open-hearted Mariinsky style. Fortunately Ballet 101 showed off that he's far more than a mere gentlemanly presence - though he can do that too, as evinced by the Sylvia pas de deux, serenely performed with the enchanting Yasmin Naghdi.

The star turns thrilled from start to finish: Natalia Osipova and Matthew Ball in the balcony scene (minus balcony) from Romeo and Juliet was my personal number one: Osipova, one-of-a-kind volatile, vivacious and scarcely touching the stage, offset finely by Ball - a beautifully classic dancer in the English tradition, poetic and very gentlemanly indeed, with the special quality of never looking rushed, no matter how fast he spins. Edward Watson and Melissa Hamilton (who's home from Dresden and on sizzling form with fine-tuned, sinewy strength and presence) brought a very grown-up Wayne McGregor pas de deux, Qualia, in which they do plenty of things that one didn't think a human body could possibly do. At the other end of the spectrum, Steven McRae and violinist Robert Gibbs took the stage together for a rip-roaring tap version of Monti's Czardas, choreographed by McRae. This list could carry on - it's only a taste of the wonders on offer.

Here's Steven performing Czardas on World Ballet Day, with violinist Vasko Vassiliev:



Parish's fellow Hull dancers pulled a special weight, and that of others. Demelza Parish shone in the world premiere of Heart's Furies, a trio by Andrew McNicol set (rather startlingly) to the first movement of Janáček's Piano Sonata and capturing its turbulence and anguish. Joseph Caley turned a different kind of anguish - Hamlet's, no less - into the dazzling jazzy solo from David Bintley's The Shakespeare Suite, and later joined Takada for the Le Corsaire pas de deux to close the performance. Harrod and McRae finished the first half with a beautiful, heartbreaking account of the last pas de deux from The Two Pigeons, complete with supremely well-behaved birds. A colleague who's seen the work innumerable times assured me that they sometimes aren't, and that once one of them fluttered off into the gods and eluded capture for several hours thereafter.

The ballet school gave an apposite piece of their own called A Dancer's Story, simple yet very effective: children in a Hull backstreet gaze through a dance studio's windows, then are transformed into its pupils, watching and learning from the older students.

And if there's one a "takeaway" thought from the evening, it was this. Part of ballet's mystique, its mythology, its self-narrative, is the image of the child drawn to dance by seeing her/his peer group dancing and longing to join in. Partly it's the Nutcracker story: the child transformed into the woman she longs to become. Partly, it's something within all of us, the atmosphere of those long-lost formative years recaptured in the unique language of dance and recreated for new generation after new generation. But in classical music, are we missing this type of narrative?

It can happen if you join a youth orchestra: the youngsters at the back of the second fiddles can be inspired by the older leaders, an example that spurs them on to work hard and follow their dream (that's how my OH started out: in the Cheshire Youth Orchestra, whose leader at the time happened to be the teenage Peter Manning, now the Royal Opera House's own concertmaster). But to reach that point, the smallest children have already had to start playing, to have been inspired to start and work their way to a halfway decent level of ability. You don't often get to press your nose to the glass of a music school's window and long to join in, and the only way to do this via the TV is usually the BBC Young Musician of the Year, which happens only every two years and now mostly on a non-mainstream channel with limited actual performances. In ballet, though, we wouldn't even question the notion that that's how it begins, that you have to start training very young, and that that's how most kids get interested: through the example of their peer groups. Is there some way we can make this story a bigger part of music as well?

Photo: Danny Lawson/PA
Meanwhile, I doff my hat off to pianists Kate Shipway and Robert Clark, who stormed Gottschalk's Tarantella while Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell charmed and fizzed through Balanchine's high-jinks choreography. The pianists, violinist Gibbs and cellist David Cohen deserve medals of their own, especially as the whole thing had to be considerably amplified because of the big-screen outdoor simulcast.

Huge congratulations, then, to this year's City of Culture and wishing Hull the best of the best for the rest of it.


Please help support JDCMB's Year of Development on GoFundMe, here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Up close with Natalia Osipova


If I had to name a few of my favourite assignments EVER, this one would be right up there. I went to the Royal Ballet studios at the ROH and watched a rehearsal for Alastair Marriott's new ballet Connectome, which premieres on Saturday, and talked to him and its star, Natalia Osipova. And I spent two hours observing them at work, about two or three metres away from Osipova, Ed Watson and Steven McRae and four hugely impressive young soloists, and it was absolutely unbelievable. The resulting article is in today's Independent, here. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bach to the ballet

The second performance at the Royal Opera House of Wayne McGregor's brand-new ballet Tetractys - The Art of Fugue - had to be cancelled the other night due to an injury sustained by Natalia Osipova that afternoon. While we wait for her to get better - hopefully by tomorrow - here is my interview with McGregor about it for The Independent. It came out the other day while I was blogless in NY.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Osipova & Vasiliev: How do they do that?

OK, you have 45 minutes to chat to the two most exciting ballet stars you have ever set eyes on. What are you going to ask them?



"How do you do that thing where you spin and spin and spin and then you slow it right down? Or those things in mid air where we just can't believe what we saw?" Not those precise words, perhaps, but something along those lines were uppermost in my thoughts when I went along to interview Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, who are guest-starring here in London with the Bolshoi for one performance only on Friday. (Flames of Paris).

So, the answer? Technique, but not only technique, says Ivan: “When you put something into this technique, your spirit, you can do this. In rehearsals, you can’t. I can rehearse one thing, then go on stage and do it completely differently and absolutely more, and I don’t know how and I don’t know why. But something inside pushes me, like, ‘Come on, come on!’ And I say: ‘OK, come on...’”

The whole interview is out now in The Independent. Read it here.

The Corsaire pas de deux above shows their technical prowess off to perfection,  but it was their Giselle with the Mihailovsky Ballet a few months ago that left me in raptures - because the physical ability is matched with poetry, drama and psychological insight to the same level.

I'm just back from hols. Saw some rather good stuff in Munich. More of that soon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Favourite things: Osipova and Vasiliev for 14 July



I feel so lucky to be around to watch Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev dance. This is the pas de deux from Flames of Paris (the Bolshoi's production, choreographed by Ratmansky), which the incredible pair will be dancing as guest artists just once in London - 16 August - when the Bolshoi comes to town.

Not long ago, I had the chance to meet them and ask: "How do you do that?" But you'll have to wait for the answer.

Meanwhile, happy "cattorze" Juillet from me and Solti.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Vasipova" hits London


Sometimes you feel lucky to be around to see certain people do certain things. Since starting this blog nine years ago, I've been aware of this frequently: it's a privilege to chart the coming-of-age of musicians like Benjamin Grosvenor and Daniil Trifonov, the birth of operas like Written on Skin and The Minotaur, the zooming to stardom of Jonas Kaufmann, Joseph Calleja and Joyce DiDonato. And I've been fortunate, over the decades since being a balletomane kid, to see many, many great dancers.

Still, the other night I had the distinct impression that if there's a ballet biscuit to take, Natalia Ospiova and Ivan Vasiliev have walked away with it - assuming their feet touch the ground long enough to actually walk anywhere.

The Russian ballet couple sometimes known to fans collectively as "Vasipova" are in London at the moment with their home company, the Mikhailovsky Ballet from St Petersburg, which they joined after a dramatic exit from the Bolshoi a couple of years ago. The Mikhailovsky may be less well-known here, yet has a distinguished history, its theatre going back over 100 years and the ballet company for around 80; it is currently under the direction of Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato. To judge from their Giselle at the London Coliseum the other night, perhaps the issue now is that their two top stars simply eclipse the rest, in the syndrome of "the best is the enemy of the vaguely OK".

The production is bright, pretty, traditional, often finely wrought in terms of drama: clear mime and some impressive detail: eg, Giselle's mother doesn't know whose wine to pour first, the princess's or her press secretary's - as a peasant she is used to pouring first for the man. A few clunky things like noisy spook-flames and a manically active tree in the second half were probably opening-night glitches, and the orchestra was reasonably impressive, but for some dodgy intonation in the big viola solo. But above all it's a vehicle for Natalia and Ivan...whom, incidentally, I went to meet on Saturday afternoon. (Oh yes, I did. And they are adorable. More soon.)

Osipova is nothing less than mesmerising. It's not just her extreme lightness, focus and flexibility that astounds - every jump seems to take place in slow motion, for instance, and a series of backward-shifting sautes in one Act II solo had the audience holding its collective breath in near disbelief. What really makes the difference is her absorption in the drama. Every move serves the story and the character, in the same way that Verdi only employs virtuoso coloratura to serve his text. There's a shudder of premonition in "he loves me not"; the mad scene is both a devastating disintegration and a desperately convincing heart attack; and Vasiliev as Albrecht delivers a final coup-de-grace to the audience with the violence of his fury when accused by Hilarion.

Act II found Ospiova's supremely ghostly Giselle, whirling around on the spot when initiated, perhaps free at last to dance as she wants, as her human heart had prevented in life; and Albrecht, forced to dance himself almost into a grave of his own, is being put through what she had to experience - a lesson in ultimate empathy. The silence of ballet, the symbolism of the lilies, becomes part and parcel of the ghostliness - can the ghost-Giselle speak to the living Albrecht her Wili sisters have entrapped? The whole means of communication has transformed since Act I.

Strange how different Osipova and Vasiliev are, yet their partnership works like a jet engine. Vasiliev's presence is a bolt of pure kinetic energy that can flatten you, while Osipova's feet work like a hypnotist's wheel. Act II resembled watching the sun dance with the moon. Both simply defy gravity - cliche, yeah, I know, but there's no trampoline in the Coli stage. And the chemistry between them is unbroken and unmistakeable. If they're in different parts of the space, though, you can go cross-eyed trying to work out which of them to watch first.

Some critics seem perturbed by the size of Vasiliev's leg muscles. Since he can do THAT (right), I personally wouldn't grumble.

They're here until 7 April. Don't miss the chance to see them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A dancer-director hits the ground running

More ballet! I had the first interview for a national newspaper with the new director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O'Hare. I found the one-time Birmingham Royal Ballet premier danseur thinking big, with a strong, clear vision for where he wants the company to go from here. Among the highlights we can look forward to are a triple bill in November of ballets from the three hottest British choreographers associated with the company - Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett; a new one-act ballet by Alexei Ratmansky, probably to the Chopin Preludes (wonderful idea!), and more new three-acters in the future.

Incidentally, Osipova left the Bolshoi last year together with her partner Ivan Vasiliev, and their new company, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, appears to be OK about her making guest appearances elsewhere. Ratmansky was director of the Bolshoi for five years up to 2009.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A firebird as a swan

It's been noted everywhere, since Natalia Osipova hit town the other day, that the Russian prima ballerina assoluta-in-the-making isn't necessarily a natural Odette. She's more firebird than swan, setting the place so much alight as Odile in Act III that it's no surprise everything goes up in smoke at the end. On the other hand, why should Odette be a moaning minnie? A swan is strong, fierce and near-supernatural, a favourite symbol of mythical purity and grace, the creature that leads Lohengrin and seduces Zeus. And, incidentally, a swan can break a man's arm.

Osipova's swan is Odette with a modern twist: fabulously musical, she goes into slow motion with those wonderful ritardando spins, or chooses an arabesque angle all her own, her Bolshoi training's super-extension a vivid contrast with the expert ensemble but contained style of the Royal Ballet corps. We may want to see her leap, but she wants to act - and for good reason. Her Odette is slow to trust yet quick to love, which makes her betrayal all the more tragic; and Osipova gives us an inspired moment before she throws herself into the lake that is the instant Odette cracks. Visibly, before she embarks on her final mime, she realises she can take no more: now her mind is made up and nothing will stop her. Acosta's Siegfried follows her, of course. But it is Rothbart's death that we see on stage, and the ferociously marvellous Gary Avis seems to drown in a turbulent lake of vengeful swans. We experience our heroine and hero's last moments vicariously through his.

Here is Anthony Dowell coaching Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares and Christopher Saunders in the climactic pas de trois - from the Royal Ballet Live webcast last April. (I love how the pianist gets totally carried away - and the thing that Dowell describes as "the Judy Garland moment"...)



Back to Osipova & Acosta: it was the Black Swan pas de deux that sent everyone nuts, and with good reason. Osipova works the audience with the instinct for timing, and virtuoso teasingness, of a prize comedy actress, though her interpretation is certainly not about laughs. In her solo, she goes into a phenomenal series of turns and extensions with that trademark slow control; then seems about to do it again on the other side, until, with a glance into the auditorium, seems to say "nah, maybe not...". The smile she flashes at the conclusion would have set the house aflame even if the sequence of fouettes - and whatever else it was that she did in those famous spins, which were doubles with knobs on - had not already done so. Acosta's whirls themselves drew a loud whoop of joy from somewhere in the stalls in mid flow: like Papageno, I think he could have won a few auditorium marriage proposals given the chance. He is a dancer who, like Dowell, can own the stage with the move of one arm and can hover in the air for what feels like a whole minute when allowed, in the Black Swan finale, to leap. If only they would bring back Siegfried's Ashton solo in Act I...

Speaking of which, it hasn't escaped any critic's notice that this production is a wee bit past its sell-by date. The lurid designs, for a start. The schlock-Gothic Act III is more Rocky Horror Show than royal ball. Rothbart looks, as owl, like a cross between Rod Stewart and, unfortunately, Jimmy Savile (what has Rothbart been doing to his troop of bewitched maidens anyway?), and later, in the ballroom, more like George Michael on a really bad day. However powerful Gary Avis's acting - and no character dancer could be more so - it's hard to take Rothbart seriously in this get-up.

But though it's the designs that cause the most complaint, I have to add my usual bug-bear about the limited benefits of supposed "authenticity". Going back to the original text as far as possible means that we lose all the old RB production's gorgeous Frederick Ashton contributions (except the Neapolitan Dance, which would probably cause a balletomanes' riot if chopped). In Act I, it's not only Siegfred's solo that I miss, but also the old Ashton waltz. David Bintley's choreography for the waltz, apparently based on an original-version 'Dance of the Stools' - the wooden sort, I hasten to add - is irritating, fussy and chaotic and the maypole adds nothing at all except clutter. Meanwhile Act IV is missing some of my favourite music - the clarinet-led, Russian folksongish lament - jettisoned in favour of a pretty but interminable waltz, when there are waltzes galore elsewhere already. Also, Ashton's Act IV made spectacular use of possibly the most dramatic piece in the whole score, which does not come into this version at all. The current staging does win on drama in Act IV - but at a price.

But hey. We weren't there for the production, but for Osipova - and it was her night all right. I was sitting next to a dance critic of long experience and some renown who remarked that bringing in a star like Osipova is a move that could inspire the whole company, showing them all what's really possible. And going home, I bumped into Brian, My Ballet Teacher, who was in ecstasies, saying that Osipova had delivered moments in the role as he had never seen them done before. Brian has lived and breathed classical ballet all his life - he used to dance leading roles with London Festival Ballet and his classes are gloriously poetic and Vaganova-inspired - and he knows what he's talking about.

The orchestra, under Boris Gruzhin, was on mostly excellent form - what a treat to hear such luxury Tchaikovsky - and it's hard to imagine the violin solos played more wonderfully than they are by concertmaster Vasko Vassilev, whose deep amethyst tone is now an essential part of Royal Ballet Tchaikovsky classics as a brand. Please, Kevin O'Hare, couldn't we have him go on stage for a curtain call?

The Mikhailovsky Ballet - of which Osipova and her usual partner/husband, the utterly incredible Ivan Vasiliev, are members - is coming to Britain in the spring. Doing, among other things, Swan Lake. If the First Couple of Dance are there, buy, beg or steal a ticket.






Sunday, July 17, 2011

Up close with Osipova and Vasiliev



My ultimate night off is a trip to the ballet. Yesterday I treated myself to a spot close to the front at the Coliseum to see Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, the young supernovas of the Bolshoi Ballet, in Sir Frederick Ashton's Romeo and Juliet. I sat near enough to hear Osipova breathe and to watch the rippling of Vasiliev's impressive leg muscles.

I've always been curious about this ballet. Ashton is a big favourite and this is one of his that I've never seen before, since it's not often done in London. It was created for the Royal Danish Ballet and apparently was bequeathed  in Ashton's will to the dancer and director Peter Schaufuss, whose company was responsible for its nine-performance visit.

Here in the Big Smoke we're steeped in the Kenneth MacMillan version, and it's hard to forget about it while watching this very different, exceedingly condensed account. But while MacMillan's is a grand-scale company piece, full of dazzling solo spots and set pieces for the corps de ballet, Ashton extracts the essence of Shakespeare's poetry and focuses on nothing else - as if Romeo and Juliet has become a Shakespeare sonnet. The corps - or the few couples representing it - have little to do; the ballroom scene looks more like a preamble to a family dinner party; and the lovers are dead at 9.30pm, by which time (if I remember rightly) Covent Garden has usually just killed off Tybalt. Having so said, I've no idea whether or not this was precisely Ashton's original or if it has been further truncated for this run (other reviewers have suggested so).

It didn't strike me as the vintage Ashton of gems like La fille mal gardee and A Month in the Country. Yet it has many moments of poetic beauty in the several pas de deux that feature ecstatic, open-limbed lifts and lavish backbends; Juliet flourishes in intricate and skittering choreography, and there's fantastic character development for her that leaves the rest of the cast in the shade. Direct references to Shakespeare are enjoyable: the lovers, meeting for the first time, make much of their touching palms; Mercutio 'bites his thumb' at Tybalt; and of the relationships on stage, perhaps the most touching of all was that between Juliet and her nurse (who's feistier than MacMillan's equivalent and gives the importunate page boy a good thrashing). There's much gazing over shoulders while, unusually, the dancers are required to turn their backs on the audience. Generally, though - musical as it remains - it seemed to lack the degree of focused imagery and points of crystallisation in which so many of Ashton's other ballets excel.

Osipova and Vasiliev aren't natural Ashtonians, and the surrounding Danes proved interesting company in every sense: while it seemed that the Bolshoi pair were making a great effort to rein in their natural athleticism and immense technical prowess to suit Ashton's poetic restraint, the bouncy and lyrical Danes let rip. Alban Lendorf of the Royal Danish Ballet brought the house down as Mercutio: as in Shakespeare, it's more of a character role than the moony Romeo, and Lendorf's acting ability had the chance to exceed that of his star colleague. Dancing next to Vasiliev in purely technical terms must be a huge challenge, too, and Lendorf met it at literally every turn. Showpieces for Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio found Vasiliev giving us those glorious leaps and his magically controlled spins that flower into slow motion at the end, but Lendorf's multiple whirls (wonderfully on-the-spot) would put many Odiles to shame; and Robin Bernardet as Benvolio offered seriously dazzling footwork.

Their Tybalt, Johan Christensen, was a renegade Goth type, a problem child with a major anger management problem; slightly hard to believe in Lady Capulet's passion for him, but his sword fights are magnetic and that roll down the steps when Romeo kills him must be jolly painful.  Super support, too, from Schaufuss himself as Friar Laurence; and his daughter, Tara, had a lively and tender solo spot as Mercutio's girlfriend.

But it was Osipova's show. She's an astounding dance actress, growing before our eyes from teasing child to awakening woman, from furious teenager to desperate and decisive suicide, making every high-set developee and every last pas de bourree into an expression of character. At times I nearly feared for Vasiliev, since his Juliet outacted him and his Mercutio nearly stole his limelight.

On balance, though (pun unintended), I don't think he needs to worry. What a gorgeous pair they are, these two real-life lovers: magnetic, flexible, passionate, all-giving artists in the grand sense of which the Bolshoi tradition has never lost sight, and imbued with a charisma that makes it physically impossible to glance away while they're on stage. Never mind the production's shortcomings in terms of lighting/sets/costumes: this was a night to remember.

More previews from the Peter Schaufuss Ballet's run-up to the run here: