Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to write an open and honest review of Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance show.

Beloved ballerina Natalia Osipova returns to London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre with her Pure Dance production. Similarly to dance stars Carlos Acosta and Sergei Polunin, Natalia Osipova is able to attract crowds for her curated show of short pieces, which also toured in Lyon and New York. Osipova’s Pure Dance show is the dance equivalent of hosting her own art exhibition, common in visual arts and photography – and the theme of her programme is the “power of dance to move, emote and inspire,” as written in her introductory programme letter.

Sergei Polunin presented his Mixed Bill at the London Palladium earlier this year, and Carlos Acosta gave a farewell tour at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016.

Natalia Osipova: Ballet Biography

Moscow-born dancer, Natalia Osipova, began dancing at the age of five and enrolled in the Mikhail Lavrosky Ballet School a few years later. Next, she studied at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography for nearly a decade from 1995 – 2004. Upon graduation, Osipova joined the Bolshoi Ballet, where she earned a principal role in 2010. The following year, she joined Mikhailovsky Ballet as a principal dancer. In 2012, she became a principal at the American Ballet Theater; and in 2013, she joined The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer. Her documentary film, Force of Nature Natalia, came out in 2019.

Dancers: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in The Leaves Are Fading (Antony Tudor)
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Natalia Osipova ‘Pure Dance’ Review

Accompanying a four-star review in 2018, The Guardian reviewer, Lyndsey Winship, calls Natlia Osipova’s Pure Dance “a dizzying odyssey from past to present.” The individual solos and duets were created at different times, and while she gained fame as a ballerina, a majority of the pieces are more modern in nature.    

Anthony Tudor: The Leaves Are Fading (1975), 7 minutes

Osipova’s evening-length programme opens with Antony Tudor’s The Leaving Are Fading, which acts like sort of an amuse-bouche. The autumn imagery manifests in Osipova spinning in a fluttery dress and charging through the space in typical grand allegro choreography. During the pas de deux sections, she and David Hallberg awkwardly stick a few poses in a dance about fleeting nature, but all is forgiven when she’s whisked off stage, her back arched in a beautiful farewell.

Jason Kittelberger: Left Behind (2019), 7 minutes

The staging will look familiar to American fans of So You Think You Can Dance. A door sits in its frame on stage, and the piece is a more nuanced, non-commercial version of Mia Michaels choreography to Amy Winehouse’s Mercy on Stephen ‘Twitch’ Boss and Katee Shean during Season 4. For me, it’s the highlight of the evening.

Choreographer Jason Kittelberger falls to floor on the opposite side of the frame when Osipova throws the door shut. Kittelberger resurrects himself and re-enters Osipova’s space, and the narrative continues with a series of entrances and exits. Dancing separately, they fully indulge in each movement, lunging deeply and gesturing expressively, but they are completely focused on each other during their partner work. The duet shares a soft kiss and their bodies intertwine, but Kittelberger quietly slips off stage, as the title suggests, leaving Osipova behind.

Dancers: Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard in Flutter (Iván Pérez)
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Iván Pérez: Flutter (2018), 15 minutes

Flutter oscillates between supremely regal moments, tempered by borderline spastic quirky episodes. It matches the music, which is like angels singing opera alongside aliens spitting out numeric series.

The pair parade out with gay fits of hopping, which look like a bad spoof of modern dance; but there are more subdued playful elements, too – like when Osipova plays with her balance in relevé as her leg is propped up in back attitude. The best parts of the piece are the lifts; Jonathan Goddard effortlessly rockets Osipova around stage to epic music.

Kim Brandstrup: In Absentia (2018), 8 minutes

In Absentia is only Pure Dance piece absent of Natalia Osipova; and David Hallberg, principal with the American Ballet Theatre, takes the stage solo. We are introduced to him as he slouches in a chair behind a television, illuminated by its glow. When he rises, his pedestrian movement transforms into more typical dance vocabulary: shifting his hips from side to side and rising on his toes.

At times, he is distracted (presumably by whatever was on the television) and he marks the movement – completing it without any particular presence, as requested by the choreographer. His dancing and deft footwork are impressive; but it doesn’t really matter, since he loses interest and hunkers back down to watch something else.

The piece would be even more relatable if staged with a cell phone, rather than a TV.

Dancers: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in Valse Triste (Alexei Ratmansky)
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Roy Assaf: Six Years Later (2011), 22 minutes

The pair enters together, slowly and soberly. They focus internally while interacting and exploring each other. The two prance around each other in mini courtship dances, but the dance becomes more aggressive. Osipova repeatedly strikes her shoulder into Kittelberger as a singular note replays, as if the music gets stuck in a glitch. She eventually buffets him backwards with this action and slaps him in the face.

Still, the duo re-groups and repeats the slow choreography from the beginning of the dance. It’s tentatively tender and reminiscent of The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.

Yuka Oishi: Ave Maria (2018), 7 minutes

Although Ave Maria is typically associated with the church, choreographer Yuka Oishi claims the piece isn’t religious. Rather, she created the piece to showcase the femininity of Osipova with a new movement vocabulary.

Yuka Oishi also choreographed the Rite of Spring solo, Sacré for Sergei Polunin in his Mixed Bill at London Palladium.

Osipova gallantly gallops across the stage as spotlights create mountain-like shapes in the fog. However, there are times when she is swept along by the movement, instead. Overcome, she skitters backwards in a bourrée and holds up trembling hands. It’s easy to see why this Ave Maria used to close the show.

Alexei Ratmansky: Valse Triste (2018), 6 minutes

The waltz with David Hallberg is a pretty piece, but not remarkably memorable when shown alongside the others. The dancers move with a fluid quality, and there are joyous parts of the dance against the aquamarine background that would easily fit in the whimsical underwater scene from Mary Poppins Returns. Some segments do reflect the title of the piece, “sad waltz”, but the piece is best enjoyed ogling Osipova’s technical facility, when she effortlessly slides into the splits – and her charisma.

Star Rating:

Dancer: Natalia Osipova in The Leaves Are Fading (Antony Tudor)
Photo credit: Johan Persson

If You Go to Pure Dance:

Dates: 22 – 26 October 2019

Times: 7:30pm, and one matinée on Saturday the 26th at 2:30pm  

Run time: 2 hours, including a 20-minute interval

Price: £15 – £85

Theatre: Sadler’s Wells

Address: Rosebery Ave, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4TN

Nearest tube/ train station(s): Angel, but walkable from Barbican and Farringdon

Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638000

All information accurate and up-to-date at time of posting.

Have you seen Natalia Osipova perform? If so, which production was it – and where in the world were you? Tell us in the comments section below.

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