BWW Review: OSIPOVA & ARTISTS Crush It with a Captivating Contemporary Triple Bill
Celebrated Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova crossed over to contemporary along with her real-life partner Sergei Polunin, the "bad boy of ballet", in a triple bill of U.S. premieres at New York City Center from November 10th to 12th 2016. Watching these two consummate classical dancers believably embody a 21st century movement aesthetic was both astonishing and heartening. I have long told my own students that because dance is ephemeral and cannot be hung on a museum wall for posterity, each new generation of artists must be capable of dancing not only what was then but also what is now. Osipova and Polunin, as well as Jason Kittleberger and James O'Hara who shared the stage for this run, proved unequivocally that this goal is achievable.
The opener, "Run Mary Run" by award-winning UK choreographer Arthur Pita, was inspired by the late Amy Winehouse's album "Back to Black", which was in turn inspired by the 1960s girl group The Shangri-Las. In a program note, the choreographer tells us that his tragicomic duet for Osipova and Polunin was meant to depict a "doomed love tale about an obsessive, possessive relationship with some sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll". Overall, that is what came across the footlights. Yet more passion on the part of the performers, both positive and negative, would have upped the experience for me. That said, I was enchanted by one section in which a large swing reminiscent of Fragonard's painting served as a vehicle for the lovers to enjoy the sweetest season of their fraught relationship.
The evening's second offering proved to be far and away the most mesmerizing and imaginative. Entitled "Qutb", the Arabic word for axis or pivot, the work by Royal Ballet of Flanders' Artistic Director Sidi Larbi Cherkaqui involved constantly changing intertwinings of three bodies - Osipova, Kittleberger, and O'Hara - to a Middle Eastern musical mélange created by Sound Designer Felix Buxton including his additional instrumentation. For dancers trained in an idiom with terminology that names all the steps and arm movements, learning the choreography for this unconventional piece must have been a genuine challenge. Yet they definitely succeeded. The program notes spell out a possible story line, but concede that the performers "could also be interpreted as celestial bodies, planets, or even mythological entities: orbiting, colliding, and intersecting through space". Their journey, whatever it may be, was greatly enhanced by lighting that included the projection of what might have been a moon or any planet. A tip of the hat to Set and Lighting Designer Fabiana Piccoli for her evocative creations.
The evening's closer by UK choreographer Russell Maliphant, "Silent Echo" to a score by Scanner supplemented with a selection by electronic music composer James Lavelle, once again paired Osipova and Polunin. Although the piece is decidedly contemporary, the choreography features moments in which the two superstars engage in dazzling displays of their spectacular technical capabilities. Ripples of applause broke out when Polunin flew through the air in gravity-defying leaps or Osipova displayed her impossibly arched feet. Clearly, NYC's seasoned dancegoers were a bit hungry for some classical prowess even as they rewarded the dancers with applause for having had the desire and the courage to step out of the past and into the present.
Word has it that Osipova and Polunin plan to continue their exploration into the realm of contemporary dance while she remains a principal dancer with the The Royal Ballet and the Ukrainian born Polunin readies his "Project Polunin" for a run at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in March 2017. Here's hoping that their ongoing joint choreographic journey is exactly what will come to pass.
Photo credit, Bill Cooper