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Solo for Two: Ballet’s Power Couple — With Others

Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, August 10, 2015

When it was announced that Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev would be performing in a concert, I was really eager to see what they would do outside major ballet companies and classical repertoire. I had been thrilled by them on stage at the Met (and couldn’t help but read what was said about them in the gossip columns). So, I looked forward to joining the audience at City Center (which was full of Russian-speakers who know how to dress up for the occasion of theater).

The concert offering titled Solo for Two is a co-production of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Ardani Artists Management in collaboration with The Royal Ballet. Talented dancers from the Royal Ballet and other organizations were brought together for a pick up company.

The highlight for me was in the last piece, a dance/drama titled Facada. It was choreographed by Arthur Pita who took advantage of Osipova’s strengths. Her joy at the beginning was infectious, but the moment that was most memorable for me was when she performed a feat of alchemy — her bones seemed to become liquid. She was a jilted bride, a scorned woman, who turned on the man who left her (Vasiliev), crawling upon his body as if she were a spider-like insect and squeezing him to death (reminding me slightly of Jerome Robbins’ The Cage). It was an astonishing bit of artistry. She is famous (and sometime criticized) for being as much a gymnast as a classical ballet dancer, and here her skills were breathtaking.

Also noteworthy in Facada were Elizabeth McGorian, who played a svelte, sinister woman in a black pencil skirt and stiletto heels, and Frank Moon who composed the folk-inspired music and played the oud onstage.

Facada followed Mozart/Salieri. The two pieces seemed similar enough in tone and dark humor, that I wondered why something that was more of a contrast hadn’t been chosen. Ivan Vasiliev danced with Vladimir Varnava, who choreographed the dance/theater piece. Varnava was a good match for Vasiliev’s charismatic stage presence. Both men easily tossed off the ballet moves, like jumps and turns, but what stood out was their ability to be nimble clowns. It was a most curious work — sometimes out loud funny, sometimes touching, sometimes dramatic — with elements of Beckett, Kafka, Abbott & Costello, German Expressionism and silent movies, along with the dashes of classical ballet. It was a mishmash that had original, brilliant touches, but, too often, was difficult to understand. Occasionally, only because of the title, I understood that it was about Mozart and Salieri and I was impressed with the visual gestures. For instance, there was a sequence in which Salieri listened with a glass to Mozart’s chest and glorious music came forth. When Mozart listened to Salieri, there was only silence. Overall, I wished the piece had been edited and more focused.

First on the program was Zeitgeist, a pleasant, plotless modern dance work choreographed by Alastair Marriott to Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (1987). The wonderful music incorporated Glass’s signature use of circular motifs, and the background moved with interesting video projections, smoky and cloud-like abstractions by Luke Halls. The dancers were all fine, especially Edward Weston from the Royal Ballet. Although Osipova appeared after a time, it wasn’t much of a showcase for her.

The evening was advertised as a presentation starring Osipova and Vasiliev, with their names above the title, so I was surprised that they didn’t perform in works that highlighted them more as individuals, or that a showy pas de deux hadn’t been thrown into the mix. I understand that classical dancers sometimes want to break out of the mold and try something different, but I’m sorry that these two exciting dancers didn’t choose material that was as inspiring or outstanding as their performance abilities.


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