Natalia Osipova has followed the lead of French prima-ballerina Sylvie Guillem by throwing herself into the world of contemporary dance in her first self-commissioned programme. Supported by four male dancers throughout the evening (including bad boy of ballet Sergei Polunin) and three prominent male choreographers, Osipova commendably subverts the stereotypical hierarchy of the ballet world in which dancers are at the mercy of their choreographer’s vision, instead asserting control over her own repertoire by selecting artists to make work not to facilitate their personal creative journeys, but to be vehicles for her to “express her personality”.
The evening opens with what appears to be a promising duet by celebrated choreographer Arthur Pita. Inspired by the turbulent relationship between the late Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil and the theatricality of the music of sixties girl group, The Shangri-Las, Run Mary Run promises an atmospheric, swinging sixties rollercoaster, from teenage breakups to sex, drugs and rock and roll, and everything in between. It is undeniable that Pita delivers limitless intriguing and charming vignettes facilitated by original and quirky choreography. Polunin and Osipova execute nostalgic sixties dance routines reminiscent of hand jive. Osipova clings onto her partner’s body like a koala, as he walks nonchalantly round the stage smoking a cigarette. Polunin straps up ready for the heroin injection that will ultimately destroy his romantic endeavours. Stand out moments of choreography include an intricate duet in which the two performers continually exchange cigarettes, whisky bottles and glasses in limited spatial parameters, and also a moment in which Osipova sits innocently on a lowered down swing that is metaphorically manoeuvred and manipulated by the subject of her obsession. Despite the engaging nature of these scenes, the piece as a whole is lacking a structural dramaturgy to pull its individual episodes together into a cohesive art work. At times, it feels as if we are observing the result of Pita’s research and development week, which although impressive, is not the finished article.
Surprisingly, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Qutb is probably one of the most intellectually and physically impressive works of the evening. Despite the programme referencing extensive stimuli that one would think would confuse the work’s intention, Cherkaoui’s inspirations from astronomy and natural disasters permeate Qutb in the form of images that are not self-definitive, but offer a perspective by which one may view the piece. The three performers fill each other’s negative space, orbiting around one another’s bodies with a sinuous quality. Their legs and arms assemble to form structures reminiscent of spiritual iconography, and the ritualistic musical accompaniment gives the impression that they are being controlled by some external force.
Russell Maliphant’s Silent Echo is a somewhat disappointing end to the evening. The duet – again danced by Osipova and Polunin – starts well, utilising the collaboration with lighting designer Michael Hulls to generate an interesting opening. Ebbing pools of light fragment the performer’s movements, cinematically editing the choreography into a trailer-like sequence of events. However, Maliphant’s movement language itself is lacking definition, and it is difficult to understand how it was generated considering his vague stimulus that focuses mainly on the structure of pas de deux opposed to the content. Whilst Osipova’s solo redeems the largely monotone work with flashes of dynamic ebullience, the lack of movement inspiration reveals itself in Polunin’s solo, which is composed largely of familiar balletic language.
Overall, Osipova’s Triple Bill delivers an impressive evening of contemporary entertainment, and offers audiences the opportunity to marvel at virtuoso performers demonstrating their physical and theatrical skill set. Whilst each work holds valuable, intriguing moments, they are all united in – at times- falling into the trap of exploiting their dancers’ superhuman physicality “for the sake of it” opposed to utilising them to explore their choreographic concepts. It is disappointing that this has occurred in an evening dedicated to moving away from the strictures of ballet, and that at times it feels as if the choreographers didn’t understand that if we’d have wanted to see Osipova’s legendary classical extensions, we’d have gone and seen her in the Bolshoi.
The Natalia Osipova Triple Bill ran at Sadler’s Wells until 1 October 2016. For more information see Sadler’s Wells website.
Photo: Tristam Kenton