This is a fascinating documentary film about Natalia Osipova, aptly titled Force of Nature Natalia and skilfully directed by award-winning director Gerald Fox. It charts the rise of the international ballerina from her early years as a budding gymnast to her start at ballet school and her rapid rise through the ranks of the Bolshoi, her engagement with the Royal Ballet and becoming one of the most sought-after ballerinas in the world. Filmed over the course of a year, her energy, passion, talent and vibrance are in evidence from the outset with delightful, personal film clips of her childhood, looking exuberant in ballet class.
Contributions from critics Judith Mackrell and Sarah Crompton, as well as Royal Ballet Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare, positively bubble over with genuine enthusiasm. It is clear that wherever she works her audience, colleagues and mentors are captivated by her.
Natalia Makarova rather amusingly comments that Osipova had, “quite good schooling” (Moscow State Academy of Choreography), then continues to extol the virtues of her enormous jump, pointing out that, “Even Vaslav Nijinsky could envy her, I think!”
There is a great deal of very interesting rehearsal footage: Makarova coaching Osipova and Cesar Corrales in her production of La Bayadère. The detail, the hard graft, the repetition are all a reminder of the dedication, application and sheer stamina required to sustain the quality in just one pas de deux, let alone a three-act ballet. Performing a slither of a pas de deux as Gamzatti with Vadim Muntagirov’s sleek Solor – it’s a scintillating taster of what’s to come. After some Black Swan and Giselle there is Flutter with the magnificent Jonathan Goddard, sections of rehearsals and performances of Facada and The Mother (both by Arthur Pita – the latter is premiered on the Southbank Centre on 20 June); Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s recent Medusa and towards the end of the film, rehearsals with her on and off stage partner Jason Kittelberger, during the process of creating I’m Fine.
Each dance clip is interspersed with candid rehearsal and dressing room interviews with all those involved with her. The respect is palpable, as each person speaks effusively about her in superlatives, oscillating between absolute reverence, awe and adoration. Yet, she is remarkably self-deprecating. Post film, she talked about her energy, claiming that she was always being told she was, “too much – too much jump, too much spin – sometimes I had so much energy, I just went boom, knocking myself over!” She embodies roles with such a deep-rooted sincerity that she loses herself entirely. “If I dance Juliet, I am Juliet, not Natasha.”
The proximity of the cameras (and Fox has admitted to falling over the dancers on occasion – so enthusiastic had he become) allows the viewer to witness every flicker of emotion, every quivering balance and to see the mechanics of the creative process and its evolution. However, apart from her obvious abilities, one of Osipova’s greatest assets is that she is prepared to listen and learn from her coaches and therefore make changes. This mutual trust has nurtured and enabled her artistry to grow exponentially.
She is building bridges between classical ballet and contemporary dance, her insatiable thirst for new work, new experiences and experimentation is unstoppable. She says herself that not everything works but it’s a constant re-examining of what she can do, what people want to see.
This is a superbly made film, its intimacy is revelatory – for those who are and aren’t directly involved with the dance world. It draws a portrait of a supreme artist, a woman with exceptional humility, all sensitively handled with warmth and humour. As was stated in the film – it’s impossible to be indifferent to her, and it seems, most of us cannot get enough of her. Compelling viewing.