Throughout the audience at the London Coliseum the mood was electric, everyone awaiting her entrance. Then on she flew, crossing the stage in fiendishly fast jetés, arms flailing above her. And from that moment on, Natalia Osipova held her audience captive as she determinedly took on the physical contemporary challenge, powerfully attacking, thrusting, and splicing the air with legs more dangerous than any scud missile.

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vassiliev in <i>Facada</i> © Doug Gifford
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vassiliev in Facada
© Doug Gifford

Osipova was performing in the Ardani 25 Dance Gala, a celebration of Sergei and Gaiane Danilian’s twenty five years of presenting Russian ballet in the west. Under  their Ardani Artists umbrella, they have brought several of Russia’s top companies – the Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Eifman Ballets – and outstanding artists such as Diana Vishneva, Polina Semionova and the superb male dancers in Kings of the Dance, to Europe and the United States. But top of the list has been the public’s two favourite Russian superstars, Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, whose Bolshoi partnership over the past nine years set the ballet barre soaring and audiences hearts pumping. Together they guaranteed – and still do – pop-star-like excitement from their performances. Sparking off each other, they ignite the stage and leave an exhilarated audience to fan the flames. Theirs was a partnership on stage and off that ballet dreams were made of, and though now these young dancers have moved on emotionally and professionally, they have remained friends and happily still dance at such galas together.

Osipova, now firmly established as a principal at The Royal Ballet has become one of the most sought out ballerinas of this age, thrilling audiences with her ravenous appetite to try every new style and ballet offered to her, and always giving 100% of herself in every production. Vasiliev is a principal with the Mikhailovsky Ballet while also performing many of the heroic ballets at the Bolshoi. He continues to have that magnetic appeal on stage with his cheeky character and fearless technique, that makes even the most ‘impossible’ leap or jump seem a natural part of his being.

Their reunion in London came in the final piece in the gala’s triple bill – and though it had none of their famous classical ballet wizardry of the past, it was none the less spell-binding. The duo appeared in Facada, Arthur Pita’s comic and wacky tale of a jilted bride, first seen last year, and which again had the audience rocking in their seats. The work involves some tough technical dancing but it is the split second comedy timing that both achieved so perfectly. Osipova was joyously spritely in her bridal attire, as she awaited her big moment, only to have her suddenly reluctant spouse-to-be run away from her screaming. Aided and abetted by a sinister dead-pan Mrs Danvers character, (perfectly executed by Elizabeth McGorian), the bride is encouraged to wring out her tears into a bucket to provide water for the flowers, to burn her wedding dress and seek revenge on her would-be husband by stabbing him with the very same shiny knife her spooky guardian had used as a mirror to apply her lipstick. And finally, the bride literally dances on his grave with gusto! The music was composed and played live by Frank Moon, was never intrusive, and set the mood well.

First on the evening’s bill was the world première of Zeitgeist by Alastair Marriott, to music by Philip Glass. Costumed in a black strapless bathing suit that gave her an Amazonian superwoman look, Osipova was partnered by the sinuous Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson whom she hails as her favourite contemporary partner.

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in <i>Zeitgeist</i> © Andrej Uspenski
Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in Zeitgeist
© Andrej Uspenski
He can certainly match her physically with his own Sylvie Guillem-esque extensions and high flying jetés, and is physically strong and muscular enough to catch her as she propels herself onto his body with speed. However, while it was obvious from her facial expressions that Osipova was obviously working out some story in her mind (as to why she was performing these steps to this music), Watson’s face remained a blank canvas, leaving him to look haunted and gaunt. That said, the two expressed a fluidity together like two rivers flowing into each other, their movements entwining and interlocking as they breathed the same air. They were joined by three young Royal Ballet dancers – Donald Thom, Tomäš Mock and Marcelino Sambé who also threw their bodies around in the contorted steps but with perhaps a wee bit too much classical control. Sambé, however, let himself go at high speed in his solo, taking successful risks and showing that he is a force to be reckoned with. Glass’ music propelled the pace throughout and Marriott proved that he has some very good ideas; this piece shows off his dancers’ abilities, his musicality and good taste.

The second act was devoted to a quartet of ballet boys having fun. The piece, Tristesse, based on a poem by Paul Éluard, was choreographed by Marcelo Gomes to music by Chopin, played with passion on a grand piano by Andrei Gugnin. It was a highly enjoyable work with some excellent dancing and a lot of fun to watch (and obviously dance). Gomes, from American Ballet Theatre, was joined by Joaquin de Luz (New York City Ballet) Denis Matvienko (Guest, Mariinsky Ballet) and Friedemann Vogel (Stuttgart Ballet) – four men with very individual styles but who fitted together like an expensive jigsaw puzzle. Dressed in white shirts with sleeves rolled up, and tan or green slacks, the four boys greeted each other warmly, encouraged each other in solos, made relationships and even wiggled and offered some funny un-balletic poses. Chopin had a score for each of the men’s talents, which showed the quicksilver speed and impishness of De Luz, the beautiful classical lines of Vogel, the joyful leapings of Gomes and the more sombre but open Russian correctness and lyricism of Matvienko. So with all the fun and games and good feeling from the audience, why the title Tristesse? In the final moments, Gomes is rejected by the others and, as the curtain falls, sits alone sobbing. However, his choreographic work left a good feeling with us in the audience.