Performing Arts: Dance
November 13, 2016
Famed former Bolshoi ballerina Natalia Osipova is known for her world-class ballet technique, artistry, and rebellious persona. She invited three other dancers, including another recently famous ballet rebel Sergei Polunin (whose Take Me to the Church YouTube video has over 16 million hits) to appear in an evening of contemporary works created especially for her, in a venture that ultimately left one frustrated.

Although today’s ballet dancers must (and do) challenge themselves by exploring other genres, the quality of the work made for them is often disappointing. Furthermore, without serious, long-term immersion, it is difficult for ballet dancers to shed the sleek and over-determined pathways ingrained in their bodies, which end up making them, and the work, look slightly at odds with each other.

If only these otherwise accomplished contemporary choreographers would not be thrown off their game when working with someone like Osipova. Arthur Pita's "Run Mary Run" (with music by the Shangri-Las, Frank Moon, and David Lynch) starts out with a pair of arms jutting out from a mound of dirt, mysteriously twisting and turning, but soon devolves into a mind-numbingly literal duet that recalled (as the program notes) the time of 1960s sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Costumed like cartoons by Luis F. Carvalho, Osipova wore a red beehive wig and neon green mini dress, and at one point, Polunin sat on the floor in his leather jacket, tied a rubber hose around his arm, slapped it a couple of times, and then stuck himself with a syringe.

A short section where they exchanged a lit cigarette and a bottle of hard liquor as they ducked around each other was classy compared to the sequence where he smooched her all over, eventually bouncing her her upside down with her legs spread, while he kissed from one inner thigh to the other. It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry at watching two of the most talented dancers in the world performing these inane antics.

QTUB by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was choreographically the most interesting, yet the dancers’ faces, arms and feet, oddly streaked with red, made them look like they had escaped from the Walking Dead. Jason Kittelberger, James O’Hara and Osipova maintained bodily contact throughout most of the choreography, with the men constantly lifting her then bending back, rolling onto the ground, getting up and repeating that smoothly liquid sequence for most of the piece. Unfortunately, overblown program notes talked about suffering, redemption, celestial bodies (evoked by Fabian Piccioli’s lovely backdrop with a sun-like projection covered by a disk that appeared at times), but none of this was remotely apparent in the dance itself.

As a closer, Russell Maliphant made "Silent Echo," a duet for Osipova and Polunin, where his stated goal was to “utilize elements of [their] mastery of classical technique and broaden that language into something contemporary.” Instead, we got a duet where they crawled and strutted from one downpool to another, bent backwards, danced around each other like repelling magnets doing lots of whiplash-speed chainées, and solos with lots of high extensions and random old-school ballet steps like a grand-plié into a pirouette.

The speedy chainées and three simple barrel-turns elicited applause from a starved audience that wished they could have seen these amazing dancers do something more meaty and meaningful. But kudos to Osipova for taking a risk and challenging herself, no matter what the outcome.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY –- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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