Some Dancers Would Refuse to Partner Me I'd Knock Them over; DANCE the Royal Ballet's Superstar Natalia Osipova Talks to Emma Byrne about Her 'Strong Energy', Her Crazy Schedule and Her Notorious Ex, Sergei Polunin

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 28, 2019 | Go to article overview

Some Dancers Would Refuse to Partner Me I'd Knock Them over; DANCE the Royal Ballet's Superstar Natalia Osipova Talks to Emma Byrne about Her 'Strong Energy', Her Crazy Schedule and Her Notorious Ex, Sergei Polunin


NATALIA OSIPOVA is one of the world's great ballerinas and the Royal Ballet's most bankable star. So it comes as something of a surprise to learn there are dancers out there who would refuse to perform with her. "I know at least a couple who wouldn't want to partner me again some would refuse." She grins, wryly. "I've got a strong energy so if I'm in a rush I can sort of knock them over."

Catch Osipova, 33, at her most abandoned and you may well sympathise. Having trained at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, the Bolshoi's feeder school, Osipova's style is pure Russian powerhouse: big jumps, big turns, big personality. But she is also a dancer of considerable interpretive intelligence, an exceptional Giselle and Kitri in Don Quixote. At times she inhabits a character so completely a kind of recklessness takes hold that's thrilling to watch and occasionally downright scary.

It's not always without consequences. In December 2014, an explosive turn in Don Quixote saw her fall badly, mid-show. In April last year she gave a poised portrayal of Manon alongside Vladimir Shklyarov of the Mariinsky Ballet; until the final act, when she suddenly let rip, flinging herself into gravity-defying dives and heavyweight lifts, a slightly terrified-looking Shklyarov panting to keep up.

Osipova remembers that night well. "Vladimir loves dancing with me for this particular quality, spontaneity." Not all partners are so understanding: "There are personalities that have to know absolutely for sure what is going to happen on stage. But with me that is not what they're getting there is no mutual compatibility. It's normal not everyone can dance with everybody." We're chatting backstage at the Royal Opera House. (There's a translator even after fiveand-a-half years in the UK, Osipova is shy about her English.) It's always a bit of a shock to meet ballet dancers in real life they're inevitably tinier and younger than their performance alter egos would have you believe but she's exactly as you'd expect: smart, determined, with a fine-boned, gamine beauty that makes her so striking on stage.

She's also clearly exhausted, in the middle of a hectic performance schedule that has seen her rehearsing seven productions, ballet and contemporary, over the past few months alone. When we meet she's just returned from New York after sell-out shows with one of her favourite partners, David Hallberg; afterwards, she's straight into rehearsals for Medusa, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's first work for the Royal Ballet. She has also spent the past 12 months working with Bafta-winning film-maker Gerald Fox on a new documentary, Force of Nature Natalia, which gives a tantalising behind-the-scenes glimpse into her life and career. How on earth does she find the time? "I wouldn't say it's my idea. I never plan to do, say, 25 projects at the same time. It just happens. I'm quite decisive, I'll hear an idea and say, 'Yes, yes, let's do it.' I don't need lots of time before I make a decision." In London next month she'll reunite with choreographer Arthur Pita and dancer Jonathan Goddard for The Mother, based on Hans Christian Andersen's dark tale of a woman who chases Death to bring back her sick child. More dance-theatre than outright ballet, it earned rave reviews at its premiere in Edinburgh in December ("compellingly nightmarish" was one accolade.) Loss, grief, the fears of motherhood they're bold themes to present to a pre-Christmas audience more inclined towards Nutcracker-esque froth. …

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Some Dancers Would Refuse to Partner Me I'd Knock Them over; DANCE the Royal Ballet's Superstar Natalia Osipova Talks to Emma Byrne about Her 'Strong Energy', Her Crazy Schedule and Her Notorious Ex, Sergei Polunin
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