Natalia osipova

A solid evening’s entertainment: Rambert’s Peaky Blinders ballet reviewed

Being of a squeamish sensibility and prejudiced by a low opinion of recent BBC drama, I can claim only a superficial acquaintance with Peaky Blinders. So my response to The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, a new ballet drawing on the popular television series about gangland Birmingham during the 1920s, is that of a rank outsider. Produced by Rambert (in association with Birmingham Hippodrome), it represents the company’s admirable attempt to find a broader audience and move out of the modern dance ghetto – hence presenting the show at the new Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park rather than Sadler’s Wells. A spot check on the demographic suggests that it succeeded: but

Gripping – if you skip the non-stop Yentobbing: Dancing Nation reviewed

Thank God for the fast-forward button. Sadler’s Wells had planned a tentative return to live performance last month but the renewed lockdown forced a rethink and the programme was niftily reconfigured for the small screen. The result, Dancing Nation, is a generous serving of old, new and borrowed work from 15 UK dance-makers. Unfortunately the BBC’s three hour-long iPlayer films pad out the dance content with interviews and mission statements plus non-stop Yentobbing from the inevitable talking head. Brenda Emmanus, one-time frontwoman of BBC’s The Clothes Show, speaks fluent presenterese, emphasising every other word and greeting each number with kindergarten delight: ‘What a treat we have for you!… Another thought-provoking,

A last dose of vitamin D before the clocks go back: Royal Ballet’s triple bill reviewed

Were those gerberas in Francesca Hayward’s bouquet on opening night? Gentlemen admirers take note: no woman, ballerina or otherwise, has ever welcomed a bunch of gerberas. Hayward deserved better for her adorable Dorabella in Enigma Variations. In white flounces and gathered bloomers she lighted the stage with sprightly sweetness in Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet set to music by Edward Elgar. The moment: Edwardian. The mood: lamentation in the drawing room. The look: tweed, knickerbockers, pipes, monocles, moustaches held on with glue. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs set us at a country-house party — William Morris wallpaper, parlour games, cold tea — in a palette of somnolent drabness. There was handsome dancing

#MeToo Medusa

Medusa is the bad hair day from Hades. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s retelling of the Greek myth is frizzy, tangled and splitting at the ends. The premise is promising. This Medusa story is a Perseus prequel: the girl who became a gorgon. The young Medusa (Natalia Osipova) is a priestess at the temple of Athena (Olivia Cowley). Her beauty is legend and the sea god Poseidon (Ryoichi Hirano) is keen to get his webs on her. Poseidon rapes Medusa and angers the virgin goddess Athena. But it is Medusa, not Poseidon, who is punished. Athena makes Medusa a monster. Then along comes Perseus (Matthew Ball), no hero he, to cut Medusa

MacMillan’s #MeToo minefield

Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling is a #MeToo minefield. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary is a serial seducer, a man of many mistresses, a grabber of princesses. Were he alive and kissing today, he’d check himself into an Arizona rehab clinic. In 1889, it was laudanum and a loaded pistol. Rudolf ought to be tormented, driven by ennui and the oppression of the imperial court to darker and darker thrills. Ryoichi Hirano, who opens the Royal Ballet’s 2018/19 season as the Crown Prince, is not dark enough. It is his debut as Rudolf and his performance is studied and contained. Hirano is handsome, tall, Apollonian. He was electrifying in MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations

Ill wind

A kindly cowboy, an East Coast bride, adultery, murder and madness. The Wind, Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 Texas gothic novel (and Sjöström/Gish movie), offers rich pickings for dance narrative and was selected by Arthur Pita for his Covent Garden main stage debut. What could possibly go wrong? Pita has made some terrific dance dramas — notably 2011’s Metamorphosis for a treacle-glazed Edward Watson — but The Wind is a massive disappointment, looking thin and underwritten despite hefty production values. A miniature railway dollies pointlessly around the stage perimeter and the wind of the title is supplied in tedious abundance by two custom-built threshing machines (the cold front could be felt in

Triple thrill | 8 June 2017

Thrilling debuts, starry guests and a tear-stained farewell at Covent Garden this week as the Royal Ballet closed the season with a triple bill of works by Sir Frederick Ashton. The company’s founder choreographer could often be spotted lurking at the back of the house during Marius Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty enjoying ‘a private lesson’. Today’s would-be narrative dancemakers could gain similar benefits from The Dream, which distils Shakespeare’s five acts into 55 minutes of witty, characterful dance. Steven McRae’s Oberon made short work of Mendelssohn’s Scherzo with icy pirouettes melting into deep penchées and turns chained so tight and fast he should wear asbestos slippers. Marcelino Sambé added a spicy

The unhappy Prince

A tragic flaw is one thing — every hero should have one — but Mayerling’s Rudolf, a syphilitic drug addict with a mother fixation and a death wish, is a very hard man to love. Kenneth MacMillan’s 1978 ballet, currently being revived at Covent Garden, tells the complex tale of the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary and his 1889 suicide pact with his teenage mistress. The narrative unfolds in flashback with cinematic sweep to a cunning patchwork of 30 Franz Liszt compositions invisibly mended by John Lanchbery. The grandeur of the Viennese court is deftly sketched by designer Nicholas Georgiadis. Vast interiors are evoked with a swath of fabric and the

Double trouble | 7 July 2016

The Bolshoi Ballet’s wunderkind ballerina Natalia Osipova defied received wisdom when, in 2012, she cast off from the great Moscow company with her equally prodigious then boyfriend and partner Ivan Vasiliev to go freelance. Without the Bolshoi’s unmatched support system, its coaching and opportunities, its reputation behind her, protested the Russian media, how could she thrive? Much the same was said over here the following year when the Royal Ballet’s precocious young star, the matchlessly graceful, imperiously aquiline Sergei Polunin thumbed his nose at a cornucopia of Covent Garden leading roles and skipped off to an uncertain future trailing behind him incoherent tweets about wanting to run a tattoo parlour.

Notes on a scandal

How could it possibly go wrong? The magnetic, seething Russian star Natalia Osipova playing the tragic woman in John Singer Sargent’s magnetic, enigmatic portrait of Madame X, all alabaster skin, black dress and arrogantly sexy profile. A Mark-Anthony Turnage-commissioned score, a top-prestige Bolshoi co-production, and enough scenery to rebuild Canary Wharf. If only Christopher Wheeldon’s new Covent Garden ballet Strapless were a scandal, like the portrait itself when originally unveiled in Paris in 1884, or like Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon at its première. If only it could be dubbed a tasteless exhibition of an undesirable type of female. Instead, it’s just a polite little flop, vastly over-decorated, overcomplicated, and with a

The Kremlin is dictating Russian culture once more – and it’s neo-Soviet and anti-Western

It’s suddenly gone icy-cold in Russia’s arts relations with us and the US. Last year’s Russia-UK Year of Culture just snicked under the wire before the political chill started building up ice in all sorts of unexpected places. The international acclaim for the epic Russian film Leviathan, up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, was sneered at by the feverishly nationalistic culture minister Vladimir Medinsky. Recently he denounced the film as ‘perfectly calculated to pander’ to western views of a bleak modern Russia, and he has previously proposed that only movies properly celebrating today’s Russia should be allowed either public funding or a release. Director Andrei Zvyagintsev has been a victim


There was blood on the walls and floor at the birth of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in 1965. The violence of the subject was matched by the goings-on in the wings, the scrap over the first-night casting, in which the original Juliet, the young Lynn Seymour, found herself relegated down the list having had an abortion to take the role. Due to Machiavellian box-office politics, the première was staged with Fonteyn and Nureyev as the young lovers, and rising star MacMillan, horrified at being steamrollered, quit the Royal Ballet. None of the smell of blood and fury survives in the Royal Ballet’s scrupulously scrubbed-down 50th anniversary staging. Though there

Pulp fiction

Hot, languorous, sizzling… I was thinking what an ideal show Matthew Bourne’s noir comedy is to watch on a summer’s evening in T-shirt and shorts as you sip a cold beer in a plastic cup and feel all toasty while the garage mechanics are bumping and grinding away at Dino’s Diner. Then the rain started chucking it down outside, the temperature fell, and I found myself ruminating on how a dance show feels different if you’ve just been watching it, rather than feeling it in your skin and body. The great thing about Bourne’s choreographic style is that it feels like something you might have done yourself during some summer

Woolf haul

People have been saying that Wayne McGregor’s new Woolf Works has reinvented the three-act ballet, but not so. William Forsythe reinvented the three-act ballet 20 years ago with Eidos: Telos, a mesmerising masterpiece that I found myself recalling as I watched the McGregor. There are many formal similarities: the search for sense through words, the woman facing darkness and death, the central act in period costume, spectacular light, video, ambitious structures on stage, and so on. You get the picture. McGregor’s work isn’t reinventing the wheel — it just reinflates it with a jet of new hot air. Since last week’s première, every possible view has been taken about Royal

Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote: Carlos Acosta is too brainy with this no-brain ballet

One feels the pang of impending failure whenever the Royal Ballet ventures like a deluded Don Quixote into a periodic quest to stage that delightful old ballet named after him. Twice in recent years has it tilted at the windmill and flopped back, dazed and bruised. It never remembers, though, and here it goes a third time. A Spanish romp in the sun, with brilliant dancing, silly comedy and a happy ending, makes a perfect change from the usual Christmas Nutcracker, does it not? And nowadays, with such a substantial cohort of Cuban, Argentinian, Brazilian and Spanish dancers the Royal should be able to scorch the floor in required style,

Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet battle for the heart of English dance

English ballet erupted out of the second world war in the hands of the rival choreographers Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann, colleagues but of different instincts, one for dance, the other for drama. The case is currently being made for each by the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. But how to revive the sensations and imaginings of the 1940s? It was long before most of us were even born, and more than any other art form ballet is dependent on evoking memory, atmospheres, intangible associations. Ashton, who emerged as the creative giant of the Royal Ballet’s nurturing, has recently been as out of fashion as furs and cocktail parties.

Ballet’s super couple should stick to the classical repertoire

Last week, the feast of long-awaited dance events on offer echoed bygone days when London life was dominated by the strategically engineered appearances of rival ballet stars at the same time in different venues. At the London Coliseum, Solo for Two featured one of ballet’s super-duper couples, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. As Osipova told me in a recent interview, their aim was to tackle choreographic modes outside their standard repertoire. Alas, bravery and bravura do not always go together. The classically trained Mikhail Baryshnikov and, more recently, Sylvie Guillem have made successful forays into modern and postmodern dance, but they were very much the exception. Let’s not forget what

Natalia Osipova interview: ‘I’m not interested in diamond tiaras on stage’

‘I am not interested in sporting diamond tiaras on stage, or having my point shoes cooked and eaten by my fans,’ muses Natalia Osipova, referring to two old ballet anecdotes. ‘Ballet has evolved and the ballerina figure with it. The world around us offers new challenges, new stimuli and new opportunities, and I believe that it is the responsibility of every artist to be constantly ready to respond to these. There is simply no reason, nor time, to perpetuate century-old clichés, such as the remote, semi-divine figure of the 19th-century ballet star.’ Osipova, now a Royal Ballet principal, is still remembered by many as the Bolshoi Ballet’s soloist, who, only