For their spring 2009 season, American Ballet Theatre will spruce up its roster of world-renowned ballerinas when they welcome Natalia Osipova, 23-year-old shooting star from the Bolshoi Ballet, as a guest artist. A YouTube search for her name yields plenty of footage of the young dynamo, including a series of fouette pirouettes (repeated spins on one leg) that literally stops the show.
I was fortunate to catch her U.S. debut at the 2008 Youth America Grand Prix Gala, and can testify that Osipova is nothing short of spectacular. Her aforementioned turns could hardly be more secure, but her jump is unreal. It comes out of nowhere, a sudden explosion of flight. At last year’s performance, the ladies’ room echoed with astonishment: “She jumps like a man!” They meant it literally. Already Osipova has made it her personal trademark to occasionally replace the ballerina’s double turns on pointe with the male danseur’s double turns in the air.
What struck me most about her dancing, however, was how far Osipova carried her art beyond technical feats. She is wonderfully expressive, her whole being attuned to realizing an artistic idea. Her exuberance (and that of her equally extraordinary partner, Ivan Vasiliev) was infectious. Neither seemed at all apprehensive about their New York debut. They didn’t project timidity or compensate for their nerves with ruthless overconfidence. Instead, the pair radiated generosity and warmth from the moment they took the stage through their gracious bows.
It would be nice to see her perform fiery Kitri in Don Quixote, but instead Osipova will appear in ABT’s Giselle and La Sylphide. The sylph is a fairy and Giselle a ghost, so Osipova’s incredible lightness will be put to good use. The ballets are not, however, traditional showcases for hot shot youths. Both are long-skirted Romantic tragedies, and in each the ballerina dies, betrayed by her lover. Giselle, in particular, places considerable dramatic demands on the performer. She must convey innocence, madness, and destruction. Then, transformed by death into a Wili, she reaffirms the spiritual values of love through acts of faithfulness and forgiveness. It’s no small task, particularly for a young dancer who has spent a lot of time in the high-octane vacuum of competitions and galas.
Despite her age, Osipova’s acclaimed performances in Europe and Russia suggest that New York audiences have a lot to look forward to this spring. Many have commented on her ability to absorb and explore a character, and a quick browse through the ballet blogs indicates that she has made La Sylphide her own to great success. Of Giselle, Marc Haegeman wrote in The Dancing Times that while it’s not a ballet one masters in a debut, Osipova’s performance “stands as a magnificent achievement, carrying the seeds of future greatness.” That was over a year ago. Luckily, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see how those seeds have grown.
ContributorMary Love Hodges