Natalia Osipova Force of Nature Review
January 21, 2023 | NY City Center – New York, NY, USA
After idolizing Natalia Osipova’s Act I Giselle variation for years – analyzing every movement of her fingertips, each blink of her eye – to prepare for numerous audition tapes and solo performances as a young, aspiring ballerina, conceiving her as a real human with aspirations, struggles, and dreams never crossed my mind.
Someone born to be Giselle couldn’t possibly exist in any way outside of that role.
Later, as a teen, I remember the first time I saw Natalia Osipova in the flesh. I had moved to New York to realize the path to becoming a ballerina requires just as much circumstance and facility as talent and work ethic and was backstage just inside the sacred Metropolitan Opera House stage door wrangling a group of unruly boys whom I was chaperoning for American Ballet Theatre’s Giselle.
I knew I would encounter her at some point over the week, but she caught me off guard as she strutted past security: giant shades covering her expressive eyes but emphasizing her sharp cheekbones. She kept to herself backstage, communicating few words in her thick Russian accent to other Ballet Theatre dancers, and rehearsed shrouded in elegance.
Osipova performed her iconic role with a casual edge with the knowledge her level of artistry as Giselle was unparalleled.
Watching Natalia Osipova perform a section of the Act II pas alongside fellow Royal Ballet artist Marcelino Sambé on Friday night at City Center was no different, although stripped of the grandeur and opulence of the full set at the Met Opera.
As I watched, suddenly, I was a child again: humbled witnessing her flawless – to the point of nearly careless – expertise as she floated through the gravity-defying entrechats and poissons.
Whether it was Osipova’s endearing Giselle or her abandoned and flirtatious interpretation of Manon, watching Osipova perform her classic repertoire is like returning to one’s favorite vacation spot or ordering the best dish at the hottest new West Village restaurant: it doesn’t matter the level of intimacy one may share with the artform of ballet – one just knows they’re signing up for some really good s**t.
As an artist, it must place Osipova in a difficult position.
Audiences demand and expect to see Natalia Osipova perform the best of the best, but at a certain point, even that extreme level of supremacy in her field must become dull. Even on a novice level, trust me, there are only so many times you can run the Act I Giselle solo before craving to try something fresh, wild, and new.
Her new dance company, Blooms Dance Project (which she registered with her new husband Jason Kittleberger in the UK in May 2022) has a vision that is two-fold: first, to preserve her iconic roles, and second, to establish a dance company to create new works through worldwide touring.
It’s challenging for an artist to escape their niche to try something new, like a sushi Michelin chef wanting to experiment with a pastry shop and harshly being shut down to stick with what he knows.
However, what level of fame and recognition does it take to gain the approval to venture out into something new?
I can think of a few others on par in her field that has achieved something similar: Wendy Whelan accomplished her Restless Creature film and show in 2016 and is now at the helm of City Ballet – although she arguably already had the advantage of working with City Ballet which offers a more diverse rep than Royal Ballet.
Maria Kochetkova, potentially, could also be paralleled to what Osipova is attempting to achieve, with her diverse new choreographic collaborations, although she also already had the security and network of working in her freelance bubble for years.
I feel I would be a novice critic if I merely rambled off reviewing the movement of the assorted selection of excerpts that were presented on City Center’s stage Friday evening – it feels fairly obvious her classical work would far excel her contemporary works.
Instead, my question isn’t if Osipova should be venturing out into a fresh track. I firmly believe anyone can take control and transform artistic integrity at any stage. However, the question I want to ask is how she’s planning to do it and why it is or is not working.
My initial reaction to the program was, actually, a slight disappointment. I wanted to see Osipova do more of what she knows. I feel both the mission of the new company would have been better represented and the curation of the program would have flowed more naturally if all of the ballet was in the first half and then all of the contemporary followed as a second act.
It would be a cleaner way of communicating: “Look I can do this, like, really well – but, I can also do this.” Ultimately, flipping back and forth between the styles felt choppy, with long awkward breaks as Osipova caught her breath or changed costumes.
Additionally, I would have preferred to see more dancers and companies join Osipova to perform excerpts in a gala-style layout, or for the extra guests to be removed entirely.
Although inviting American Ballet Theatre to share the stage with her (and provide her a quick breath in between grand pas deux) was generous, it felt random – and I, too, would panic having to execute 32 fouettés right after Osipova performed her most sought-after pas of all time.
18-year-old Ukrainian dancer and JKO student Yeva Hrytsak struggled through some of the coda of Flames of Paris, while ABT Studio Company member Takumi Miyake entertained the audience with an exciting series of clean double tours.
The shorter works on the program – a contemporary pas with Kittelberger where Osipova was covered in paint by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Alexi Ratmansky’s Valse Triste, and Frederick Ashton’s invocation of Isadora Duncan – felt weighted and unnecessary, and in my opinion, dragged out the already cluttered and nearly two-hour-long program.
On the other hand, both of Kittelberger’s works – Weight of It and Ashes – felt more “in the now” and enticing.
Weight of It included impressive lighting design and great choreographic potential using creative weight sharing and the unique use of a two-male (Sambé and Kittelberger) and one-female (Osipova) trio.
Kittelberger’s work-in-progress Ashes included a stunning solo from Osipova that I feel would have had a stronger impact if the full work was given more stage time. Although Ashes had no plot summary noted in the program, I interpreted Osipova wearing a long black dress to invocate a feeling of mourning and her flow of movement expressing intense feelings of pride, sadness, and joy to reflect the varied poignant ways a loss can affect someone.
She performed with fearless abandon and raw vulnerability: like the Natalia Osipova I thought I knew backstage at the Met - yet reinvented, liberated from her mysterious sunglasses, and stripped free of her shrouded headscarf.
Overall, I’m excited to see what direction Osipova takes her emerging company in, although this scale of a tour felt a little too early on as the company is still developing its mission, being incorporated only eight months ago.
Regardless, New York is always blessed to have Osipova inspiring us. The feat of dancing through so many diverse roles in one evening proves Osipova’s true force of nature.
Featured Photo of Natalia Osipova in Isadora. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
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