Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance review

Dance, Ballet
Recommended
3 out of 5 stars
Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance Sydney Opera House 2019
1/5
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Natalia Osipova's Pure Dance Sydney Opera House 2019
2/5
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance Sydney Opera House 2019
3/5
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance Sydney Opera House 2019
4/5
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance Sydney Opera House 2019
5/5
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

One of the ballet world's greats is performing an eclectic night of dance at the Opera House

When dance icon Sylvie Guillem retired in 2015, she did what any megastar worth their salt would do: she went on a worldwide farewell tour. The production, Life in Progress, was as much a distillation of Guillem’s artistic and expressive energies as it was a swansong; a definitive statement of the physical virtuosity and artistic vision that characterised her four decades on stage. 

In some ways, Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance shares much in common with Life in Progress. Both shows are built around a single dancer’s peerless talents, both feature a range of choreographic styles, and both are imbued with a level of intimate exposure that would be quite impossible to achieve in the grand European Opera Houses where their respective legends were forged. 

And yet, there is one notable difference between the two. Guillem’s performance was a perfectly calibrated crescendo, each individual work totally in-sync. Osipova’s showcase, on the other hand, has a far less cohesive momentum. It is often too polite, too arbitrary and too self-aware, overly reliant on a superficial, half-hearted edginess that fails to convincingly gel.

There is still much to admire about this show. At the age of 32, Osipova is unquestionably one of the most gifted artists of her generation and her technical abilities alone make for edge-of-your-seat viewing. Equally breathtaking are the three guest dancers opposite her, in particular principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, David Hallberg. In fact, had the performance concentrated on their dancing prowess, it might have been transformed. Instead, Pure Dance gets tied up with theatrical gimmicks that not only sit uncomfortably together, but also ultimately get in the performers’ way.

Which is mildly ironic, given this evening’s title: pure dance is the choreographic terminology for movement untethered from storytelling, existing for its own sake without the need for narrative logic. In reality, this program is heavily insistent on implied plots. Romance is the bedrock of classical ballet, so it makes a certain degree of sense that romantic entanglements are an idee fixe. But by turns, these relationships are played out as sickly-sweet fantasies, as in Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, or angsty soap-operas, as in Roy Assaf’s maddeningly literal Six Years Later.

The most successful piece of the six that make up this program is also, tellingly, the one with the most abstract identity: Iván Pérez’s Flutter, featuring Jonathan Goddard. Set to the relentless, layered vocalisations of Nico Muhly’s Mother Tongue, the bodies on stage toy with the vagaries of weight and dimension. The immutable forces of gravity and time become fluid concepts, as convulsive gestures seem to operate in fast forward and limbs rebound with weightless defiance.  Osipova and Goddard skilfully phase between the familiar lines of ballet and a more alien lexicon of movement, fusing them with hypnotic, spooling confidence. It’s here that we witness what Osipova truly represents: a dancer capable of carrying her art form into the 21st century. If only we had seen more of it. 

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