Review: Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

By Naomi Hamer


Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance is an expertly curated touring programme celebrating the strength of ballet both as an art form and placing contemporary ballet next to modern classics. Pure Dance showcases the flexibility of each of the dancers, especially artistic director and dancer Natalia Osipova. who is herself a globally recognised Russian ballet superstar. She is joined by guest artists David Hallberg (American Ballet Theatre, The Australian Ballet), Jonathan Goddard and Jason Kittelberger. The evening features six pieces opening with a pas de deux (duet) from choreographer Antony Tudor as well as four new pieces commissioned by Osipova for Pure Dance which premiered at Sadler’s Wells in London in 2018.


Opening the show with a duet from Tudor’s Leaves are Fading (1975), Osipova and Hallberg’s performance plays on the nuance of growing and fading love and the passing of time. Equal parts hopeful and melancholic, Patricia Zipprodt’s costumes are striking with an autumnal watercolour scheme and expertly dyed by Sheila White. Ivan Perez’s Flutter (2018) inspired by the experimental soundscapes of composer Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue suite uses a female voice, babbling the numbers of every address the composer has lived. Flutter is a breathtaking leap of faith which saw Osipova and Goddard effortlessly wrestling with each other and then equally intertwined, together and then apart. Christina Cunningham and Amanda Barrows’s costumes: sheer white button up shirts and pants seamlessly connected the dancers. The seams highlighting and distorting Osipova and Goddard’s points of contact and release in equal measure like a halo around their limbs. Nigel Edwards’ lighting feels like watching a deer in the headlights - are we into the woods or on a darkly lit street?


Choreographer Kim Brandstrup’s solo In Absentia (2018) begins with a stage cast in shadow except for a spotlight coming from a television at the top of stage left, illuminating a wooden chair. Hallberg enters owning the stage. Controlling the television and posing like Auguste Rodin’s bronze sculpture The Thinker (1904), his shadow eclipses the stage in the first solo for the evening. Hailed as one of the greatest dancers of his generation, Hallberg’s performance garners one of the biggest applauses of the night. Playing with silhouette, his subtle yet strong movements loom large across the entire Drama Theatre stage. Each movement no matter how small, magnified by Jean Kalman’s lighting design.


What felt like the most intimate and intense performances of the evening, Six Years Later (2011) by Roy Assaf began like a timid slow waltz as the couple moved from stage right to left, doused in shadow, except for the limbs that are directly facing the audience in Omer Sheizaf’s lighting design. Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger barely touch until they reach the opposite end of the stage and then began to seamlessly fold into each other. The most entrancing moments saw Osipova and Kittelberger, dressed in everyday jeans and t-shirts, shoulder wrestling. Even with her back to the audience, Osipova oozed a violent intensity that came to a head with her slapping him but this moment of passion never really felt resolved. One audience member questioned whether Assaf’s choreography was a “passionate weekend of love or a life?”


In Natalia Osipova’s solo Ave Maria (2018), the curtain opens on her centre stage and lit like an angel with the help of three spotlights. Her presence equal parts angelic and powerful; strong and beautiful reflected in the simple white flowing dress and cloaked in the haze surrounding her spotlight. While choreographer Yuka Oishi’s programme notes assure us this is not a religious piece despite the title and music, Ave maria is a fine example of Osipova’s strength as both a classically trained ballerina and a contemporary performer. The final piece for the evening Valse Triste (2018) which literally translates to sad waltz was choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky who has previously worked with Osipova and Hallberg at the Bolshevik Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Ending as we began in the Leaves are Fading with a deep cobalt blue backdrop and two of the finest dancers of their respective generations.


As a series Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance highlights the prowess and strength of each of the performers. From a classic Tudor to four newly commissioned performances that harness their individual skill and talent. From Hallberg’s subtle shadow work in In Absentia to the intimate and intense energy found in Six Years Later and Osipova’s delicate yet powerful solo performance in Ave Maria. Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance is an electrifying night of the skill and talent found in contemporary ballet today.


Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance season runs from 27 - 31 August 2019 at Sydney Opera House.


Image Credit: Daniel Boud

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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