Natalia Osipova’s programme of contemporary ballet and modern dance was unveiled here at Sadler’s Wells last autumn. Since then, she has performed it around the world. Not only has the show matured and grown but Osipova’s ownership of all the work she performs has become both more comfortable and abandoned. In her command of the contemporary language, she has completely shaken away any inhibitions of classical training to dance more freely than before.

Natalia Osipova © Johan Persson
Natalia Osipova
© Johan Persson

Her fans are certainly not short-changed given that the star appears in all but eight minutes of the two-hour production. It is topped and tailed by Osipova in pointe shoes for two neoclassical duets, paired with David Hallberg (now drafted into The Royal Ballet for the express purpose of this partnership). She also performs two intimate barefoot relationship duets with her fiancé, Jason Kittelberger; another, wearing socks, alongside Jonathan Goddard; and she revives her searching, mournful solo to Ave Maria, made by the fast-rising Japanese Choreographer, Yuka Oishi (also responsible for Sergei Polunin’s recent Rasputin). The only work in which Osipova does not feature is the return of Kim Brandstrup’s doleful In Absentia, a solo created upon Hallberg, which closes the first act.

Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard © Johan Persson
Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard
© Johan Persson

The music is as eclectic as the variety of dance styles: from classical (Dvořák, Rachmaninov, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Sibelius) and opera (Marilyn Horne singing Handel’s aria Dove sei, amato bene?) to vintage pop (Marmalade’s Reflections of my life) and contemporary (Nico Mulhy’s Mothertongue). It was all recorded but for once the amplification at Sadler’s Wells was flawless (at least from where I was sitting). With one exception, the stage is as bare as the title suggests.

The main duet from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading (made on American Ballet Theatre, back in 1975), was danced with lyrical lightness by Osipova, partnered expertly and with characterful expression by Hallberg. It is a bittersweet duet riven with emotion, concerning mortality (choreographed after Tudor had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition) and it was performed with subtlety and vigour. The pair returned for the final contribution, dancing a brief piece made on them by Alexei Ratmansky, who had fast-tracked Osipova’s career when artistic director of the Bolshoi and then worked with both dancers during his decade as artist-in-residence at ABT. In Valse Triste, he has authored a suitably melancholic duet to Sibelius’s "Sad Waltz", which was danced with a palpable intensity of feeling.

Natalia Osipova © Johan Persson
Natalia Osipova
© Johan Persson

The two contemporary duets with Kittelberger were passionate in an altogether different way, performed with potent raw emotion that bordered on an intimacy that was almost too personal. I was privileged to be present at the premiere of Kittelberger’s Left Behind, in Guadalajara, last July. It was powerful then and – if anything – the impact of this work about love and loss has intensified over time. The simple expedient of a door (the only set in the whole show) works both as a gymnastic platform and a thematic device to signify leaving. The choreography is urgent and arresting and an impressive, counter-intuitive distinction is achieved by matching such breath-taking movement with the softness of Rachmaninov’s Elegie.

After the break-up, they return for Roy Assaf’s Six Years’ Later, which has now been extended from an extract to the full 22-minute version (made in 2011). It’s not so much a “make-up” as an enigmatic reunion, between lovers, perhaps, but this is not clear. The work is as episodic as the music (this is the piece with Handel, Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata – and Marmalade) having moments of quiet reflection vying with pounding chest defibrillation, buttock and breast shimmying and an animated mimed conversation on the dance floor. These nostalgic reflections were conveyed with heightened emotion in another absorbing duet.

Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger © Johan Persson
Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger
© Johan Persson

Since the first iteration of Pure Dance, Osipova has partnered Jonathan Goddard in Arthur Pita’s The Mother and here he returns to make the third man in this triumvirate of outstanding partners. Flutter by Iván Pérez presents a challenging, physical duet that makes full use of a darkened backstage with the pair – dressed in translucent white costumes – regularly disappearing and reappearing from the gloom. Mulhy’s soundscape is created from female voices articulating the digits taken from the composer’s former addresses and is quite as enigmatic as it might appear from that description.

This, perhaps more than any other work, stretches Osipova beyond her comfort zone but, with absolute trust in her partner, she flings herself into the intense physicality of the duet like a female Mixed Martial Arts fighter on hallucinogenic drugs, without ever once losing form. Goddard is equally extraordinary.

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg © Johan Persson
Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg
© Johan Persson

Osipova dances in three consecutive works, twice, either side of the interval, with barely time to change in-between. Her personal programme in Pure Dance has grown by an extra duet while another has been extended by many minutes. Her stamina, thus tested, was indefatigable; unflagging in energy, artistry or commitment. A tour de force by one of the great artists of our time.

****1