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Review: ‘Natalia Osipova and Artists’ Present a Mixed-Bill with Mixed Results

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, November 14, 2016

The Russian-born classical ballerina Natalia Osipova, who enjoys international fame and recognition, has expanded her repertoire to include contemporary dance. Last year presenting a program of new works, she has followed up this year with commissioned works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant, and Arthur Pita. In addition to her many other gifts, Osipova displayed enormous stamina in this program by performing in every work.

Dancing with her was Sergei Polunin, the so-called “bad boy” of ballet, who is also her partner off-stage. Known for his tattoos, resigning from The Royal Ballet, and being the subject of the recent documentary Dancer, ultimately confirms that he’s a brilliantly talented classical ballet dancer.

Run Mary Run, choreographed by Arthur Pita to a selection of popular songs from the 1960s (mostly by The Shangri-Las) was a series of dramatic vignettes featuring sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. With Osipova in a lime green mini-dress and Polunin in dungarees with rolled-up cuffs and a leather jacket, the piece begins with them hidden under a pile of dirt—literally. The choreography comprised of more “poses” than movement, combined with the dancers conveying limited personality and/or emotion, resulted in a lackluster onstage relationship. Unfortunately, to my mind, it was a self-conscious, superficial and tedious piece.

QUTB, choreographed by Sid Larbi Cherbkaoui and taking its title from the Arabic word Qutb, a term having many meanings, including spiritual symbolism, celestial movements in astronomy, and a spiritual leader in Sufism. The word is complex and so was the choreography. The dancers arrived with their limbs apparently smeared in blood. While the reasoning of this presentation wasn’t made clear, I chose to only view it as abstract dance. Dancers Jason Kittelberger and James O’Hara joined Osipova in ever-moving patterns of undulating, twisting, tumbling, gymnastic contortions, reminding me of Indian carvings which I’ve seen previously (see below).

Khajuraho+Temples copy

I watched with concern in the event someone lost their balance causing everyone to topple over, but there was no mishap to report. A sense of urgency was created during a section when the tempo of the chants of the Sufi Vocal Masters increased and became particularly intense, resulting in the ramping up of my heartbeat. In other sections, the repetitive chants were hypnotic, or simply repetitious. While the scenic design (a backdrop looking like a kind of eclipse) and the lighting enhanced the piece, as much as I appreciated the work and felt involved at times, it was not always successful at keeping my attention.

The final dance on the program was Silent Echo choreographed by Russell Maliphant. Although this wasn’t a classical ballet, Maliphant employed classical movement while bridging other dance styles. Unlike the previous pieces, the dancers maintained the posture of classical dancers, but the extraordinary abilities of Osipova and Polunin were highlighted in unexpected, unusual, and sometimes astonishing ways. At one point, Osipova looked as if she might have been twirling on ice, performing multiple turns in place that were so amazingly and breathtakingly fast that her image actually blurred; the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Polunin danced with masculine grace and apparent ease whether rising up from the floor as if levitating, or falling seamlessly back to the floor after a high jump. It was very exciting to watch the strength and control for which both dancers are famous.

I applaud Ms. Osipova for exploring and broadening her range, as well as introducing new choreographers to the public. And while I understand there’s no guarantee for the ultimate outcome and success of commissioned projects, I hope she will continue to consider creating varied programs which might include a one-act ballet, or works in a contemporary idiom recognized as successful. When I attend future performances, I’ll look forward to being entertained while potentially being exposed to new dance forms, but hopefully not sacrificing one for the other.

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Natalia Osipova and Artists at New York City Center November 10-12, 2016.

Run Mary Run, U.S. Premiere. Choreography by Arthur Pita; music: popular music of the 1960s (primarily by The Shangri-Las); set and costume design by Luis F. Carvalho; sound design and additional music by Frank Moon.

QUTB, U.S. Premiere. Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; music: various (featuring Sufi Vocal Masters); set and lighting design by Fabiana Piccioli; costume design by Kimie Nakano; sound design and additional instrumentation by Felix Buxton.

Silent Echo, U.S. Premiere. Choreography by Russell Maliphant; music Scanner (and James Lavelle); lighting design by Michael Hulls; costume design by Danielle Scutt.

Dancers: Natalia Osipova, Sergei Polunin, James Kittelberger, and James O’Hara.

Cover: Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin in ‘Run Mary Run’; photo: Bill Cooper


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