Choreographers: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russel Maliphant, Arthur Pita,
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Serious question. Is it fair to go to a performance with an expectation how it might turn out?
Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin’s reputations are pretty much as solid as they get in classical dance. They’re at the level where the pair are comfortably crossing into the mainstream consciousness like Carlos Acosta, Olivia Cowley or Darcey Bussell. The names bring with them an assurance of craft, of quality and performance. Plus, this is Osipova’s eponymous show, again building the expectation.
Looking to build contemporary skills into an already fluent and masterful classical dance set of talents, Osipova’s three piece showcase unfortunately deflates the well-deserved expectations her reputation demands.
To be clear, her command of form is unquestionable. At times, however, it feels her commitment to perfection and technique overrides the looseness and flexibility the music and choreographical styles would suggest, leading to something that looks well executed, but feels consciously performed and ultimately leaves the viewer impressed but cold.
Partnered with Polunin for the first and last sequences, there are absolutely moments of joy from the two of them. The first, Run Mary Run from Arthur Pita is a maudlin, thin story set to music from The Shangri-Las. Polunin is the leather-jacketed, heroin addicted high-school bad boy (dangerous in the way John Travolta’s Danny Zuko was) and she is the good girl who thinks she’s in love. It’s a concept straight from a reader’s letter to a teen magazine. The staging is interesting, however, and some sequences like when the pair have an almost comedy sketch style evening of boozing and smoking are charming. In general, the work as a whole feels incomplete and out of place doing the performers and the audience a disservice.
The third piece, Silent Echo (Russel Maliphant) is potentially an excellent work. Its soundtrack is provocative and modern, the lighting (Michael Hulls) and display creative, and moments of it are beautiful and fierce. However, it feels restrained and slightly unnatural as if the innovations in dance we see here are created for their own sake, to experiment with movement and form rather than to serve something like a narrative or ideal. The final piece does give us a chance to see Osipova and Polunin dance without the camp theatre of the first, though, and this leads to properly brilliant moments, flashes of the talent and skill that they’re both capable of.
In the middle, Qutb, is the most intriguing of the three pieces. Set to a throbbing electronic/Sufi folk music soundtrack, the close choreography from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui pits the classically styled Osipova against two dancers grounded in contemporary dance – James O’Hara and Jason Kittelberger. A lot more sinewy and sharp than the other two, this ochre-hued piece seems to tell the story of the universe (a quick look at the programme notes confirms the impression). Incredibly physical, the clashing, sometimes breathtakingly delicate moments of synchronicity create savage momentum. This is transferred, defrayed and checked by each other until like a solar flare, their exuberance dies back down to their compact and grounded starting point.
The show has had an internal shuffle from when it ran at Sadlers Wells in the summer. Then, Qutb started the show with a shock, followed by Silent Echo with Run Mary Run as the finale. This change has introduced a more comprehensible flow to the evening, but as each is so separated stylistically they still don’t really sit together with any discernible meaning. Without that overarching binding, it returns to being a showreel for the star. While she does well, anyone who has seen the 29-year-old Osipova dance before knows this is not her at her finest.
Runs until 1 October 2016 | Image:Nikolai Gulakov