The ballerina Natalia Osipova easily transformed herself from spectral to sensuous to eerie in just the first half of her Force of Nature program at the New York City Center.
The show—presented sadly only once—was one of the best in the popular genre of ballet star-led gatherings. Osipova’s company members were all superb; it was a company of equals with little frivolous ego on display. Some came from her home troupe, the Royal Ballet; others from American Ballet Theatre and the rest from young ballet troupes.
To display her classical bona fides, she opened the program with the Act Two Pas de Deux from Giselle, brilliantly partnered by the handsome, technically smooth Marcelino Sambé, a principal dancer from the Royal Ballet. In this duet, the spirit of the title character meets for the last time her royal suitor whose attentions in the first act resulted in her early death. She is now a Wili, a girl who has died before being wed, but she is forgiving.
His character is Albrecht. He meets her and partners her in lovely poses and windblown lifts. Osipova’s light as air jumps and floating arms were marvelous. These two produced a masterful performance helped by a particularly fine recording of Adolph Adam’s famous score.
She was very unethereally full-bodied in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon Act One “Bedroom” Pas de Deux to Jules Massanet’s music, partnered by the long-limbed Reece Clarke (Principal, Royal Ballet) as des Grieux as her lover. Manon lures des Grieux from his writing table into a sensual duet full of high flung lifts and passionate drops to the floor, ending in a sexy embrace.
Many leading dancers have performed this duet with more finesse than these two whose interpretation of MacMillan’s choreography didn’t feel spontaneous. It was still a huge audience pleaser.
The third duet on point in the first part of the program was the rarely seen Pas de Deux from Flames of Paris, from a longer Soviet ballet set during the French Revolution. It was dance by two young dancers: Yeva Hrytsak (a student at the American Ballet Theatre School) and Takumi Miyake, a member of ABT’s junior company. It’s a silly display of energetic jumps and turns with the dancers’ costumes festooned with the red, white and blue of the French flag. Hrytsak wasn’t quite up to the fireworks but looked fine when partnered by the spitfire Miyake, a young man whose technical pizzazz assures him a career in ballet if some lucky troupe grabs him. The audience gasped at his pyrotechnics included complicated leaps and a series of double air turns that were simply astonishing.
The first half was filled out with Pure, a duet by the popular Belgian modern ballet dance maker, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to mysterious, moody music by Tsubasa Hobi and Olga Wojciechowska. Dressed in loose white costumes, Osipova and James Kittelberger (a London based dancer and choreograph, who was bare-chested in this duet) at first danced together; he painted lines on her and he left; she danced alone; he removed the painting and she left.
Their bodies twisted and bent about each other, their arms reaching as they began to dance separating, avoiding each other in draggy walks about the stage. The most salient feature of Pure were the constantly moving rectangles and circles of light that made the dancers mysterious figures. Even barefoot, Osipova was mesmerizing.
Part Two opened with Frederick Ashton’s evocation of Isadora Duncan. Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan truly captured the freewheeling, but musical style of Duncan. Dressed in a Duncanesque Greek tunic Osipova skipped and ran and mimed all to the fantastic accompaniment of Oleksandr Grynyuk on the piano. Her sad final dance was clearly meant to show her mourning for her lost children as she spread rose petals about the stage. Osipova was fleet and lovely.
Also by Ashton was “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice danced by Clarke, bare-chested and in white tights. A running theme was the elegantly controlled opening of his arms and slow, classically styled walks. It was a slow-motion exhibition of smooth technique, not one of Ashton’s greatest, but elegantly performed.
Two dark modern works by Kittelberger looked suspiciously alike: one a trio, a world premiere, Weight of It danced by Osipova, Sambé and Kittelberger and a duet called Ashes performed by Osipova and Kittelberger. They were both moody with bodies sensually twisting, the latter ending the program on a bit of a downer.
One of the world’s most popular choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky, contributed a wonderful duet to Sibelius’ Valse Triste. His take on the sad, ever more frantic music is to ignore the sadness. As danced by Osipova and Clarke it had just the right amount of drama combined with classical elegance.
Natalia Osipova: Force of Nature (January 21, 2023)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission