The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
25 October 28, 2012
by Judith Cruikshank
copyright 2012 by Judith Cruikshank
It was widely reported at the time that one of Natalia Osipova’s reasons for leaving the Bolshoi Ballet was that those responsible for the Tchaikovsky classics considered her unsuited to roles such as Odette/Odile or Aurora, roles she was anxious to dance. So when the Mihailovsky theatre offered her a contract which would give her access to their productions of the classics, plus plenty of opportunity to undertake guest performances it was a no-brainer, regardless of any other inducements.
She has already established links with American Ballet Theatre and has appeared with the company at La Scala, Milan. But when the Royal Ballet’s new director Kevin O’Hare found himself in need of a Swan Queen thanks to Tamara Rojo’s departure for the director’s chair at English National Ballet, I doubt that many people suspected that he might approach one of the world’s hottest young ballerinas to fill the gap.
After all, the long run of the world’s most popular ballet was already nearly sold out, and it seems entirely possible that some of the already scheduled ballerinas might just have consented to an extra performance or even three. And there were doubtless a number of young hopefuls in the company who offered a prayer that this might be their big break. But in the end it was Osipova who appeared with the Royal Ballet partnered by Carlos Acosta and the few remaining seats went as fast as the tickets could be issued.
There’s an awful lot wrong with Anthony Dowell’s production of “Swan Lake”, not least the décor, but this is not the time to pick over old wounds. It does have the virtue of a reasonably authentic text, but reports on performances early in the run from ballet goers I trust did little to gladden my heart. The drunken cadets, uncouth jostling and improbable lack of good manners were all still there. But more depressingly the corps de ballet and many of the supporting cast were said to look not only under-rehearsed, but totally disengaged.
What a difference a few days can make. The corps was together in timing, style and intent. The national dances went with a swing and there were excellent performances from some of the soloists. Notably Hikaru Kobbayashi in the first act pas de trois and Yuhui Choe, partnered by Paul Kay (who might look still better if he were to stretch his feet) in Ashton’s Neapolitan Dance.
But what of the principals, you ask? Well, we all know that the Royal Ballet style has changed over the past decades and most Swan Queens have adopted some of the bird-like, fluttering ports de bras that we first saw from the Russians. With the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Odette was most definitely a princess for all but the first few moments of her entry. And Odile was certainly a girl rather than a bird: When the young Fonteyn first danced the role she even wore a crimson tutu rather than the black which is de rigeur today.
This seems to be the path Osipova has chosen. She’s a princess, albeit an enchanted one, and it suits both her physique and her personality. She makes a suitably swan-like first entrance, but within a few steps she is transformed into a young woman with warmly human emotions. Her Odile was equally well thought out. This enchanter’s daughter was clearly a Daddy’s girl and her Rothbart, Gary Avis, played this interpretation to the hilt. The pair was constantly exchanging complicit glances and smiles, evidently delighting in the way they were duping Acosta’s noble, innocent, Siegfried.
Osipova’s dancing throughout was clean and accurate. There was almost a stumble at the end of the fouettes, which were unbelievably fast – a contrast to the lugubrious tempi which Boris Gruzin adopted for much of the evening. Her rapport with Acosta was considerable and there was a mutual tenderness in their white duets. I could have wished for clearer mime in Act II, but in the final act it was as clean, meaningful and unhurried as you could wish. I would have liked to see her adopt some of the little details, such as the double frappe into fondu in Odile’s variation; grace notes you might call them, which add richness to the total effect. And I wish she wouldn’t push her extensions so high, but she’s not alone in that.
Acosta gave a performance entirely worthy of his status and reputation. His dancing may have lost some of the jaw-dropping excitement of his younger days, but he jumped as high as you could wish, finished cleanly and maintained a lovely classical line throughout. His acting was clear and sincere and he partnered Osipova with care and attention.
Wouldn’t it be nice if O’Hare was to invite her again. “La Fille Mal Gardee” is sadly not in this season’s repertory, but what a charming Lisa she could be. But whatever his plans – or for that matter, her own – her presence lent a sense of excitement to the evening which had been missing for far too long.