fri 19/07/2024

Ex-Bolshoi star Natalia Osipova joins The Royal Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Ex-Bolshoi star Natalia Osipova joins The Royal Ballet

Ex-Bolshoi star Natalia Osipova joins The Royal Ballet

Exclusive: Covent Garden signs Osipova - but not partner Ivan Vasiliev

Raising the roof: Osipova in Don Quixote with the Mikhailovsky Theatre last week© Damir Yusupov/Mikhailovsky Theatre

The Russian superstar ballerina Natalia Osipova is to join the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera House announced today.

The 26-year-old Moscow ballerina, who made her name as a wunderkind in the Bolshoi Ballet until she quit two years ago, signed a contract last month but held back the news until the end of the London tour of her current company, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, reports Russian daily Kommersant.

osipova acosta swan lakeOsipova danced as a guest with the Royal Ballet last autumn in Swan Lake with Carlos Acosta (pictured right, © Alice Pennefather/ROH), and her dramatic range has made her an obvious target for the London company. Next season opens on 30 September with a new production by Acosta of Don Quixote, a ballet that demands brilliant virtuosity, and Osipova has virtually made the leading role her own worldwide. 

While she will not be joining until Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet - where she will play Juliet to Acosta's Romeo - in fact R&J opens during the period that Don Quixote is in repertoire. This leaves grounds to hope that the Russian firebrand will be seen in her signature role in the new production.

Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare says, “I’m delighted that Natalia will be joining us next season and look forward to seeing her take on a full range of the company’s heritage and modern repertory."

Initial scheduling may be sticky as Osipova is currently a principal at American Ballet Theatre as well as the Mikhailovsky, and intends to continue to give performances in both companies. Kommersant reports that ABT's director Kevin McKenzie has reacted with anger to the news of her Royal Ballet contract. The dancer is now in America with ABT with 11 performances listed in Washington and New York from next week till the end of June. (Osipova pictured left by Charlotte MacMillan)

Kommersant's respected dance critic Tatiana Kuznetsova writes today that under Osipova's ABT contract she has spring commitments scheduled in New York. Her agent told Kuznetsova, "I managed to discuss the new situation with Kevin McKenzie, and he did not hide his frustration, as the spring season in London coincides with New York, but this is a new reality that will have to be dealt with somehow. It is difficult to say how it will be settled, but the fact remains that there are conflicting interests, and we will hope for the wisdom of the leaders of the two companies to settle it."

osipova by charlotte macmillanThe Mikhailovsky Ballet's general director and patron the business tycoon, Vladimir Kekhman - who managed to visit London despite his difficulties with Russian authorities over his companies' finances - announced today that he was "very happy" for Osipova, and delighted by how the Mikhailovsky's Coliseum tour had turned talk about Russian ballet from scandal to more artistic matters. He said though Osipova's performances with the St Petersburg troupe would become rarer, due to her new Royal Ballet employment, she would continue to perform there and would be welcomed back with especial warmth.

Osipova also remains involved in a three-year agreement expiring 2016 with the Russian impresario Sergei Danilyan over freelance engagements for her and her superb on- and off-stage partner, Ivan Vasiliev, which he says will be arranged around her Royal Ballet schedule. Next year, the pair have planned performances in California of the American premiere of Roland Petit's Le jeune homme et la mort and a new creation for the pair by a choreographer as yet to be confirmed. A Moscow follow-up is also on the cards.

Kuznetsova, who promises an in-depth interview with Osipova imminently, states that Vasiliev will continue as a freelance world star, whose work is currently chiefly with the Mikhailovsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, New York.

The range of British repertoire, with its emphasis on both drama and experimental physicality, is eminently attractive to Osipova

However, Osipova and Vasiliev are returning to London this summer for a performance with their old company, the Bolshoi. Vasiliev will move to the UK capital with Osipova, while continuing his international career in Russia and America.

London has played a significant part in Osipova's blazing rise to world fame. It was the reception of her performances in the Bolshoi Ballet's 2006 Covent Garden tour - under then director Alexei Ratmansky, who picked her out of the corps de ballet - that made her an overnight star. The subsequent Bolshoi London tours only increased her impact, and it may be significant that when the Royal Ballet's Johan Kobborg and Wayne McGregor went to the Moscow to stage works at the Bolshoi, they both homed in on Osipova (see video below).

The range of British ballet repertoire, with its emphasis on both drama and experimental physicality, is eminently attractive to the dancer, who is ferociously gifted in both aspects. I have seen her dazzle in a prodigious range from her exquisite airiness in La Sylphide and dramatic intensity in Giselle to an irresistible urchin excitement in Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room - there surely is no ballerina anywhere today with a wider or more thrilling versatility.

Her first Royal Ballet performances, announced today, are officially due to be two Juliets with Acosta and two Sugar Plum Fairies in The Nutcracker. So far she is not listed for Don Quixote, but performance runs have been known to be altered after the initial announcements, so many will be watching that space.

Watch Osipova's flighty magic in fragments of Johan Kobborg's 2008 La Sylphide production at the Bolshoi, from a TV broadcast (with Vyacheslav Lopatin as James and interviews with Kobborg, Osipova and then ballet director Gennady Yanin):


she will sell tickets, will not quite fit in and it does nothing stylistically for British ballet. Mikhailovsky didn't built up their own team can't keep their Artistic Directors or poached stars.

She's too good for the Royal Ballet.

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