Pure Dance: The Leaves are Fading excerpt, Valse Triste, Left behind, Six Years Later, Flutter, In Absentia, Ave Maria
London, Sadler’s Wells
22 October 2019
You can’t argue that Natalia Osipova doesn’t give value for money. Of the seven pieces she brought together for Pure Dance, she danced in six of them. Not only that, but she flung herself into each, dancing as if her life depended on it. Quite where she finds the stamina for such a feat is a mystery.
This was second time round for Pure Dance, which premiered at Sadler’s Wells last year and has since toured the world. Osipova was still in excellent company, taking to the stage with her Royal Ballet guest principal partner David Hallberg, Jonathan Goddard (with whom she performed the wonderful The Mother) and her real-life partner Jason Kittelberger. There was an extended piece and a new addition to the programme – but, as is perhaps inevitable with these types of evenings, it was something of a mixed bag.
The brightest moments bookended the evening; both classical, and danced with Hallberg. The main pas de deux from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, danced to Dvorak, was a transporting seven minutes in which the pair seemed enchanted with each other. Osipova, adopting an ethereal lightness, was like a leaf caught up and skittering across the stage; Hallberg’s strong commanding presence was like the cold autumn breeze carrying her. In the closing Valse Triste, in contrast, Hallberg seemed barely able to contain the bundle of furious energy that was Osipova; towards the end she repeatedly flung herself at him, and he caught her only at the last moment. The piece, made on the pair by Alexei Ratmansky, cannily tapped into the couple’s differences and built steadily from a thoughtful melancholy towards a head-held-high triumphalism.
What came in between was rather more patchy. The new work, Left behind, was by Kittelberger; an emotionally fraught seven minutes of him and Osipova enacting a tumultuous relationship that shaded into violence. The unnerving, brutal physicality was almost relentless as the pair slammed back and forth through the central prop of a door, tearing into each other, then tearing themselves apart when they were separated, before slumping into something like an exhausted reconciliation. It was full-throttle and passionate – classic Osipova territory.
Six Years Later was another relationship drama danced with Kittelberger – now extended to 22 minutes – created by the Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf. My heart sank when Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata kicks in (clichés ahoy) – there was a lot of face-holding, pulling away from each other and strident outpourings. Facing Kittelberger, Osipova started to knock him with her shoulders, like a game of pat-a-cake; but as it went on and on, and she started employing her elbows, a dark aggression became apparent. Their movements became jagged; at one point they stood shivering together. Then the mood switched, incongruously – the soundtrack changed to late 1960s pop-rockers Marmalade and the pair started having a friendly mimed chat in the middle of the stage. Why? Impossible to fathom – they were back to fighting again soon enough, then embarking on another game, this time mirroring and intertwining hand and arm movements. It was all rather unsatisfying.
Equally unfocused was Ivan Perez’s Flutter, in which Osipova and Goddard raced cheerily in and out of a patch of light to Nico Mulhy’s fractured, skittering Mothertongue. Sometimes together and sometimes separate, they seemed celebratory – Goddard lifting her up as she stretches for the sky – then pensive; in quieter moments she cradled his head in her lap, he curled his body round hers protectively. There was a skipping, nervous energy at play, with tentative balances and twirling movement, but to no clear end, and Goddard felt underused until the more frantic, blue-lit climax.
The programme was completed with two solos. Kim Brandstrup’s In Absentia, made on Hallberg, was a darkly reflective piece built on Bach’s Chaconne, that had him appearing to watch a recording of himself dancing on a TV, then contemplatively reliving that dance experience. Huge shadows cast on the back wall added to the gloomy sense of interiority, and it was intriguing to watch him absorbing the music into his body. Osipova’s solo, Ave Maria, made for her by Yuka Oishi, was much more about grand gesture – Osipova as strong woman overcoming tribulations and triumphing in the face of despair. Very melodramatic; quite overblown; not terribly convincing. But, once again, Osipova gave it her all – and Osipova’s all is quite something to behold.