Author: Sarah Wilkinson
Date: July 23, 2010
Publisher: The Stage
In an interview a few years ago the young Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova spoke a few prophetic words: “I would love to suffer onstage.”
oppelia is not a ballet filled with gasp-inducing pyrotechnics, yet Natalia Osipova, as Swanhilda, manages to draw gasps with the pure ease of her approach - every jeté, brise and fouette coming to her as organically as breathing, despite the preternatural quality she bestows upon them.
Natalia Osipova (Coppelia) and Ruslan Skvortsov
(Franz) in Coppelia at the Royal Opera House
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Her Swanhilda is flourished with joyous, incisive detail and a liberal dose of Puckish charm. When tricking Coppelius into thinking she is one of his homemade dolls come to life, her eyes betray a wicked, scheming sense of fun from behind her doll-like gaze; when she finds the ear of corn offering her no hope for Franz’s future faithfulness, they cloud over with genuine, tearful anguish. She is blissfully at home when airborne - her legs seeming to ride the air like slender wings, her buoyant petite allegro rivaling the best of the Bournonville-trained Danes. It is a performance that lifts the choreography away from tweeness and into the sublime.
Ruslan Skvortsov, as Franz, partners Osipova sweetly and sympathetically, yet the role offers him little scope for technical display, leaving him pirouetting, somewhat, in her shadow. In the supporting roles, Anna Nikulina is beautiful as Prayer, her arms soft and dreamy; her serenity pervasive even when tackling some fiendishly slow adage. Vitaly Biktimirov also draws the eye in the Czardas with his Basil Fawlty expressions and ironic sense of silliness.
With it’s quaint storyline and picture book setting, Coppelia risks appearing like a worn-out old toy - dusted down occasionally and used when there’s nothing better to play with. With performances like Osipova’s however, it looks newly made.
Matthew Murphy for The New York Times - "Romeo and Juliet": David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova lead Ballet Theater's production at the Met.
On Saturday afternoon at theMetropolitan Opera House she was given that chance, making an astonishing debut as Juliet opposite David Hallberg in American Ballet Theater’s sumptuous production of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the company’s last performance of the season. Sometimes in ballet casting turns out just the way you hoped; it is a delight to report that she is more than a hoper.
Ms. Osipova is in possession of a singular free-floating jump; as ballerinas go, she is of the air. But in “Romeo and Juliet” she was an exquisite figure to watch, in part, because she knew how to speak with her feet. In a way, her resplendent turn as Juliet was more meaningful than the part itself, proving that the buoyancy of her dancing can succeed in roles that aren’t strictly bravura ones. Of course she wasn’t alone. In Mr. Hallberg, whose daring Romeo was a stretch from the princely parts that come so naturally to him, she had a superb partner.
Throughout the ballet Ms. Osipova’s dramatic sensitivity, full of nuance, was nearly complete; in her portrayal you could discern the great dancer-actress Alessandra Ferrisomewhere in the background. (That former Ballet Theater principal, who worked closely with MacMillan, taught her the role from scratch.) From the first to the third acts Ms. Osipova’s emotional shifts were unmistakable yet subtle, allowing one to feel the emotions of the familiar story just as much as watch it unfold.
At the start, moments before Juliet is presented to her suitor Paris (performed by a much too brusque Sascha Radetsky), Ms. Osipova was a bundle of playful, nervous energy, nearly flying across the stage in coupé jeté en tournant jumps. Her expressions are amazing; there is something of Bjork in her pert nose, impish smile and the way her eyes flicker from innocence to amusement in a matter of seconds.
It’s also the kind of face, so full of life, that makes you feel a surge of joy: in the first act, when Juliet begins to realize that she must grow up, the elfin Ms. Osipova was a child-woman, naïve and enchanting, like Audrey Tautou in “Amélie.” Later, after locking eyes with Romeo at the Capulet ball, her face underwent so material a change that in a flash, almost jarring, she was suddenly, briefly, an adult.
In the third-act bedroom scenes, when Juliet, left alone, vacillates between bravery and fear and must decide whether to drink the sleeping potion that will free her from having to marry Paris, Ms. Osipova was something of a wild animal. Here, the texture of her acting and dancing was piercing: disheveled from her night with Romeo and horrified by the thought of death, she tossed the vial onto the floor and ran fearfully to crouch next to her bed. As she inched her way forward and back, it was astonishing to see willpower slowly spread through her body. With a hasty shudder she swallowed the liquid and collapsed.
As Romeo, Mr. Hallberg was at his most fresh, exhibiting his confidence through clear, clean jumps and an ardor that matched. He stood out even more against the other men in the cast, who offered watered-down versions of the characters (Jared Matthews’s Mercutio and Blaine Hoven’s Benvolio) or blandly harsh (Patrick Ogle’s Tybalt).
In his masked dance at the ball Mr. Hallberg made the first move with gleaming leaps and turns — his weapons for seduction. And during the rapturous balcony scene, as he drew Ms. Osipova into his arms, raising her higher as she arched back, he was rhapsodic, she meltingly fragile. By the end, dancing only for each other, they were windswept.
Physically Mr. Hallberg and Ms. Osipova are opposites; while he is tall and fair, she is raven-haired, possessing a delicate frame. But the courage to bare all whenever they step onstage gives them a resolute harmony. As young ballet stars they show a longing to push past the point of comfort in their roles, especially those as fraught with history and emotion as Romeo and Juliet. You can sense their impatience, their devotion and, finally, their desire not to settle for a performance on the surface.
Despite the roar that greeted them in their curtain calls, Mr. Hallberg and Ms. Osipova, their hair matted with sweat and their makeup running, were visibly dazed and drained. That’s what happens, it seems, for having suffered onstage. They danced to their deaths.