Osipova’s “Pure Dance”

The American ballet critic, Arlene Croce, described Antony Tudor‚Äôs ballet, The Leaves are Fading, as ‚Äúa wistful attempt at a long, lyrically transporting ‚Äúpure‚ÄĚ ballet. As a composition it is full of prowess. As a drama it is very timid Tudor‚ÄĚ.

Her review in The New Yorker was positive and negative all in one sentence. What did she mean and why did she call it a ‚Äúpure‚ÄĚ ballet? Perhaps she found it far too abstract in comparison to Tudor‚Äôs earlier ballets among them Pillar of Fire, Dark Elegies and Jardin aux Lilas.

Other critics saw the ballet as a reverie, a memory of young love and the way it passes.

At the time Tudor choreographed Leaves, his penultimate ballet, he was 67, an age when he might have looked back on his own life and loves.

Coincidentally or not Natalia Osipova’s 2018 production is titled Pure Dance.

First staged at Sadler’s Wells in London, Pure Dance went on an international tour this year, from New York, then to Sydney and Lyon. In October it will return to Sadler’s Wells and then end the tour at the Bolshoi Theatre in November.

Curated by Osipova, Pure Dance is a six-part program of four contemporary works and two classical ballet pas de deux, The Leaves Are Fading, and Valse Triste, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for Osipova and her dance partner, David Hallberg.

All the works have a narrative of sorts and all have a thread running through the program.

Pure Dance depicts past and present love, the happiness of the past, the conflicts of the present and the way those memories slowly fade away.

The most compelling and intriguing work is Valse Triste, danced to Sibelius’ music of the same name.

Through the six minute pas de deux Hallberg supports Osipova physically and emotionally as she runs to and from his arms and jetès across the stage as if she lives in the air.

A perfect end to Pure Dance, the pas de deux shows why Osipova is one of the most feted ballerinas of the 21st century.

It’s no wonder Hallberg and Osipova are continuing their long-standing partnership that began in 2009.

The Royal Ballet has recently announced Hallberg’s new role as a Principal Guest Artist for the company’s 2019-20 season.

He will partner Osipova in Manon and The Sleeping Beauty this year, and in Liam Scarlett’s production of Swan Lake early next year.

Hallberg plays a major role in Pure Dance even though he dances in just three of the six works while Osipova dances in five.

His Pure Dance solo, In Absentia, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup last year, is described in the program notes in two different ways, the first as ‚Äúa treasured moment in the creative process” when a dancer has learned a new piece.

The second is the way Brandstrup and Hallberg felt their rehearsal room was a ‚Äúvast and desolate‚ÄĚ place. Brandstrup wrote that the music for the piece, Bach‚Äôs Chaconne in D-minor, ‚Äúintensified a sense of the solitude‚ÄĚ around Hallberg.

Unless the audience read the notes they might see Absentia (‘without being present’) in a completely different way.

As I watched In Absentia I imagined Hallberg was very much there and driven by various forces as he gazed at a TV screen, turned it on and off and rose from a chair to dance in front of a large projected a shadow of himself.

In Absentia was framed by two contemporary works, Flutter, choreographed last year by Iván Pérez, the artistic director of Dance Theatre Heidelberg, and Six Years Later, choreographed in 2011 by Roy Assaf.

The difference between these two duets is the choreographic connection between a man and woman.

The couple in Flutter, danced by Osipova and Jonathan Goddard, have little connection to one another while Six Years Later, danced by Osipova and Jason Kittelberger, her real life partner, was a more convincing expression of a relationship, past and present. The choreography is intense as the couple flick between love, attraction, pain, eroticism and violence.

I found both too long and sometimes irritating, in particular when the music for Six Years Later switched from Beethoven’s Moonlight Serenade to Reflections of My Life, by Marmalade.

If Osipova curates another travelling show with a small cast she might rethink her choice of contemporary dance choreographers.

That said, the audience at the Sydney Opera House in August appeared to be entranced by all the works as they watched Osipova in many modes, many hairstyles, in pointes or flats, in moments of tension and then release.

Next February another much-loved ballerina, Alina Cojocaru, will stage her own showcase titled Alina at Sadler’s Wells.

One of her partners will be Johan Kobborg, her real life partner. The program will include classical pieces, including Marguerite and Armand, and, in line with the showcases of Sylvie Guillem and Osipova, there were be newly commissioned contemporary works.

So far, Sadler‚Äôs Wells has not announced the choreographers. As a regular guest at the Hamburg Ballet, she may ask John Neumieir, the company’s director, to add a new work to the program.

Valse Triste: Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe

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Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in The Leaves are Fading, photo © Daniel Boud

Jason Kittelberger and Natalia Osipova in Six Years Later, photo © Daniel Boud

David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova, Valse Triste, photo © Daniel Boud

Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard, Flutter, photo © Daniel Boud

David Hallberg, In Absentia, photo © Daniel Boud