Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance – Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreography: Antony Tudor, Ivan Perez, Roy Assaf, Alexei Ratmansky, Kim Brandstrup, Yuka Oishi

Artistic Director: Natalia Osipova

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The anthology has become a common feature of dance shows, and rather than one story told across the night, several related pieces are arranged together linked by a common thread. Usually, that connection is a choreographer whose works are genetically related, calling upon similar themes, movements or techniques that provide a cohesive evening. Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance takes an entirely different approach, fitting multiple pieces around one dancer.

As a principal for The Royal Ballet, Osipova is used to being in the spotlight, but as Artistic Director and lead dancer in this new show she has chosen the pieces designed to showcase her emotive skill, working with admired choreographers on a wide-ranging programme.  Four of the segments are world premieres, three written especially for Osipova to perform in Pure Dance with an additional new male solo, and two ‘heritage’ pieces.

There is no doubting Osipova’s talent as a dancer, her movements are lyrical, light and effortless whether she’s performing in a classical style or in more contemporary work, and Pure Dance allows her to show the audience her range. But as with any collection based on the personal interest of the subject, it is an unstructured evening that does little to thematically connect the six performances together.

It works best in the two classical choices, the seven-minute pas de deux The Leaves are Fading by Anthony Tudor, in which David Hallberg partners Osipova. Using Dvorak’s music there is a giddy romanticism to the choreography, as the dancers swoop and skip around the stage, filling every beat with movement and life. Likewise, in Act II Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste gets the biggest applause of the night as Hallberg and Osipova expressively capture the elegance and melancholy drama of Sibeilius’ string-filled music. The couple continually reach for the light but are drawn back to the dark.

The new works are considerably more varied. Ivan Perez uses light and shade in Flutter, a 15-minute section for Osipova and Jonathan Goddard that uses big loose shapes reminiscent of the Jive and occasionally the bigger MGM musicals. There’s lots of running from the darkness of the rear stage into the light, while in some of the best moments the dancers use their limbs to create a series of interlocking shapes, intersections. It’s entertaining but not quite as anarchic as the programme notes imply.

The contemporary Six Years Later opens the second act to the strains of Moonlight Sonata and with a quiet intensity that the audience, still rustling their interval sweets, are not quite ready for. It’s a scrappy affair, filled with jagged movements and an overlong shoulder tussle that lacks the jeopardy of the fighting couple and loses the soulfulness of Beethoven’s music.

The two solos are equally divisive with Hallberg drawing-out the contemplative mood of Kim Brandstrup’s In Absentia. This piece is all about mood and with Hallberg’s enlarged shadow dominating the rear wall, there is a feeling that the protagonist is trying to recapture a memory, breaking-off from a sequence and restarting as prompted by Bach’s tune. By contrast, Osipova’s grand finale choreographed by Yuka Oishi is strangely lacking in impact. She may look like a Hollywood icon but there is precious little dance in a piece that’s all style and no substance.

Audience patience is equally tested by overlong transitions between each dance to allow for costume changes and ovations, taking the advertised 95-minute run time to almost two hours, giving us time to disengage from the show. Osipova is a talented performer and watching her in this wide-ranging collection is delightful, but across six dances with little in common on a grand stage that doesn’t always translate the intimacy of the emotions, Pure Dance fails to inspire.

Runs Until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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