Natalia Osipova & Guests - Sadler's Wells
25 March 2017, ASB Theatre, Auckland
Auckland Arts Festival
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
It was hard to know where the excited energy came from on opening night of Natalia Osipova & Guests at the Aotea Centre. Was the capacity audience eager to see Royal Ballet star, Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova or was it her partner in real life, Sergei Polunin, the Ukrainian ballet celebrity, who was also performing the source of the frisson?
The opening work Run Mary Run a theatrical narrative by Arthur Pita was a teasing introduction to the celebrity pair’s attributes. Ghostly arms rose from a funereal mound and twisting hands sought to tell a story. A haunted and bowed Osipova emerged from the black sand, to struggle off-stage. She re-entered as a sassy teenager in a bright, green mini-dress and a billowing wig of red hair. As she extracted her drug overdosed boyfriend from the sandy mound, so began their dark story of teenage love and angst. To the torch songs of the 1960’s girl-group the Shangri-las, they revealed their drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll courtship and its premature demise.
Polunin in jeans and leather jacket had all the insouciance of James Dean. Carrying the clingy Osipova wrapped on his hips, he smoked and swilled booze. Osipova successfully combined a sweet doll-like quality with an all-too-knowing sensuality, which saw her stricken on the edge of night-time road.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s distinctive earthy-weighted choreography provided a different challenge for Osipova in Qutb. A backdrop of an orange sun with a black centre set a fiery scene for a trio that shape-shifted in an absent landscape. To haunting Sufi chants, the trio folded over and under each other as if their bodies were constructing an origami figure. They carried, cradled and rolled over one another. Red slashes on their faces, arms and legs suggested blood, their dependence on each other signalled exhaustion.
Osipova was juxtaposed between the energy of two male dancers. The undulating, acrobatic sinuousness of James O’Hara, and Jason Kittelberger’s strength, power and drama were set against Osipova’s weightless refinement and daring. In a duet with Kittelberger she created sharp angles with her legs and body, making and unmaking a complex and shifting geometric diagram, as if she was shaping a compass reading or mapping celestial pathways. Despite moving in and out of the floor, Osipova was not a grounded, contemporary dancer. But it was her contrasting dynamism and creative force that gave this work potency. How do dispirit people thrown together negotiate and perhaps find each other when there is no other choice?
In Silent Echo, Russell Maliphant’s abstract work, the audience got what they came for – a powerhouse display of dazzling lifts, lightning turns and soaring leaps by Polunin and Osipova. To a throbbing, slightly foreboding soundscape by Scanner, the pair were caught in separate shafts of light that alternately highlighted then secluded them. They whirled in rapid turns, flowed into arabesques, carved slicing trajectories across the stage, until uniting in a combustive partnership.
Maliphant’s classical background came to the fore in his choreography and Polunin’s solo was a tour de force of elevation and artistry, punctuated with dives to the floor or breakdance moves. Osipova has an impressive array of talents in her dance arsenal – a commanding and elegant presence, a fluid and expressive body and effortless extensions. In their final pas de deux, she almost became an extension of Polunin as she twined in an organic array of lifts, arches, holds and counter balances. Her extensions reached for the sky, he turned her every which-way, producing an electric excitement that had the rapturous audience on their feet.