Summer has become the season of glittering festivals with star dancers performing in independent projects while on leave from their companies. It's a worthy — and lucrative — initiative, and these side projects by some of our leading dancers are something that we should encourage as it allows them to diversify their range while giving more choreographers the opportunity to create new works. But the problems arise when there is no one around to let these dancers know when they are doing something that isn’t any good. It’s hard to see what’s happening when you’re the one dancing because you get so invested in doing it well and can’t see the big picture. Case in point, the program presented under the title, Solo for Two, which seeks to capitalize on the star power of former super couple Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. It was not good news and it did not reflect well on choices made by either Osipova or Vasiliev.

For an August weekend the ticket sales could have been worse, but someone probably should have told the pair that many of the people who can afford $175 ballet tickets tend to leave the city on summer weekends. Then there is the program. It is bound to disappoint die hard ballet fans that there is nothing resembling a showpiece pas de deux anywhere to be seen as this program was all contemporary work. The dancers are to break out of the confines of old classical ballet to stretch themselves and do more interesting work, which is great. However, it would show good business sense to throw in one of the old war horses for traditionalist fans. Good programming requires paying attention to a balance of the familiar with the strange. Some of this current program worked, but too much of it didn’t.

The dud for me was Mozart & Salieri, a truly terrible piece of work about the allegedly tempestuous relationship between the two composers that made me want to chew my arm off and run screaming into the night, much as Vasiliev did in the closing number, Facada. Choreographer Vladimir Varnava has claimed inspiration for this piece from the cantata, Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia, which was co-written by Mozart and Salieri but it arguably owed more to Peter Shaffer’s famed Broadway play Amadeus, which was a purely fictional account of the relationship between the two. There is no evidence to support speculation about Salieri’s supposed envy and hatred of Mozart but the play and subsequent film of Shaffer’s work was so indelible that seemingly no one doubts its authenticity as historical text. As Salieri, Varnava was a convincing and talented mime and he was fully invested in his character. I was fully engaged up until Vasiliev hit the stage. As a performer, his appeal is in his inherent likeability and boyish charm. In trying to transfer that to his portrayal of Mozart he badly miscalculated and bore an eerie and unflattering resemblance to Harpo Marx every time he flashed his over-the-top grin and made his curly locks flop around. His camp clowning was relentless and badly done with an egregious emphasis on trying to be sweet. This is not Vasiliev’s strength and he would have done better to just stand there and flex his muscles. At the end of the piece when Varnava spat a mouthful of poisonous green liquid into Vasiliev’s face, killing him, I heaved a sigh of relief.

Alastair Marriott’s Zeitgeist, set to Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto no. 1, opened the program with Osipova partnered by the Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson. They were supported by Royal Ballet dancers Marcelino Sambé, Thomas Mock and Donald Thom. Osipova’s trademark speed and vitality were on full display here along with her breathtaking grand jetés and Watson is a great partner for her. Unfortunately, the choreography was not terribly inspired and was frequently repetitious. In the first movement the dancers came and went from the stage in no manner that was evident in or suggested by the music. In the second movement, Watson and Osipova delivered an emotionally relentless pas de deux, full of angst and furrowed brows for no apparent reason. Emotionalism like this without context serves no real purpose and it would have been far better if they had just danced. They recovered from whatever ailed them for the third movement, thank goodness, and tackled it with good cheer which made this by far the strongest part of the work. Sambé’s solo to open the third movement was fun to watch. He’s a terrific dancer of great musicality, who has a gift for finding the right moment to hang in the air or linger in a balance. The best thing about this ballet was the simple fact that Osipova is one of the great dancers of our time, no matter how weak the material.

The closing piece on the program was Facada, a dance theater piece by Arthur Pita. This tale of a vengeful jilted bride was easily the most fun of the night. At the moment when they were to be married, Vasiliev the nervous Groom screamed and ran out of the theater by way of the audience. Osipova proceeded to cry literal buckets of tears that the Lady in Black — a plum role for Elizabeth McGorian — used to water the flowers. McGorian, a veteran character dancer, exuded elegance and hauteur in equal measure with her air of ironic detachment. Vasiliev eventually returned to find an extremely angry Osipova who finally murdered him and then danced on a table over his dead body. Through it all, she gave free rein to extravagant emotional expression including unalloyed joy, heart-rending grief and murderous rage, generally eclipsing Vasiliev who lacks her depth.