Sending an Old Dreamer Airborne
Author: ALASTAIR MACAULAY
Date: June 4, 2010
Publisher: The New York Times
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Natalia Osipova in “Don Quixote” at the Metropolitan Opera House
Dancing as Kitri in “Don Quixote” on Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera House, Natalia Osipova proved herself the most sensational ballerina now before the public. Kitri was the first major role for which Ms. Osipova — a Russian star of the Bolshoi Ballet, now in her second spring season as guest artist with American Ballet Theater — earned international acclaim. It’s clear why. She has a gamine quality; you can imagine this Kitri as the most riveting of street urchins. And she’s a theater animal. The turn of her head, the flash of her smile, the immediacy of her response to the music, the intensity of her attention to her colleagues: these and other signs show she is never more alive than onstage.
Even if you knew from other roles that Ms. Osipova has the most remarkable vertical takeoff of any ballerina today, her jumps in Act I of “Don Quixote” were, time and again, astounding. She’s in the air in the blink of an eye, and, once up there, she can stay, exploding sideways. Or, in the image that Russian Kitris over the past 60 years have made a signature, she splits her legs in profile so that while the front one aims downward like a hovering javelin, her head and raised arms arch back to reach the other foot. (This is known as “the Plisetskaya head-kick” after the Bolshoi ballerina who first made it phenomenal.) On Tuesday, a sideways jump that is usually a mere transition became colossal. Sweeping across the stage in other jumps, Ms. Osipova became the first dancer in memory to make the vast spaces of the Met seem too small.
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Natalia Osipova, in her American Ballet Theater debut in “Don Quixote,” executes a leap made famous by Maya Plisetskaya
Yet better is the way Ms. Osipova makes every detail count. Just the way her Kitri found a moment to gossip eagerly with two girlfriends was terrific; then her boyfriend, Basilio (Jose Manuel Carreño, very appealing and with all the right braggadocio for the role), pulled her back into the dance. Amid the opening passage of the Act III grand pas de deux, she suddenly flashed a smile across the stage at another companion. (Yes! Don’t you agree this is the best day in history?)
And though her jump is the most astonishing weapon in her armory, there’s no feature of the bravura choreography in which she doesn’t shine. Ms. Osipova seems not to need to prepare for balances on point (some of them with the other leg extended sideways past head height). Her fouetté turns — done on a dime — are sparklingly embellished by extra revolutions. In adagio phrasing she has sweep and assurance. And those feet! She can throw them down like rapid-fire darts in Act I or, in her Act III solo, keep plunging them down with greater texture.
Ms. Osipova burns so bright that in this old “Don Quixote” war horse she makes new sense of its nonsense. She’s a comet: no wonder she lights up the mind of the poor befuddled Don so that he envisages her as his Dulcinea. True, she could find a yet more exciting arc for the role. Act I is electrifying and life-enhancing, whereas Act III turns into something closer to conventional ballet formula.
Yet what an artist she is. Although we’re lucky that Ballet Theater keeps showing different facets of her artistry, it’s impossible not to crave others.
Natalia Osipova will dance in “The Sleeping Beauty” on June 19 and in “Romeo and Juliet” on July 10; Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center; abt.org.