Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance, Sadler’s Wells, review: A slight selection of short works

Zoë Anderson
Natalia Osipova: Rick Guest

Big stars, good intentions, underpowered results. In Pure Dance, ballerina Natalia Osipova has put together an evening of short works, mostly new commissions. It’s a chance to see this marvellous dancer try new things, yet despite her charisma, it’s a slight evening.

Star of the Bolshoi and now The Royal Ballet, Osipova is one of the world’s most distinctive ballerinas, with explosive technique and fierce dramatic intelligence. This is a programme of plotless dances, moods rather than narratives. The oldest work on the programme is also the strongest. The Leaves are Fading was created in 1975 by Antony Tudor, a major 20th-century choreographer whose work is now sadly neglected.

Danced to Dvorák, played on tape, the duet is wistful and floaty, autumnal in character. It’s not an obvious fit for the blazing Osipova, but it’s good to see her use her lightness and speed in these windblown classical steps. She’s partnered by American Ballet Theatre star David Hallberg, who combines proud lyricism with a lovely sense of the music’s folk rhythms. They’re entrancing together, with a playful chemistry as they flit and dip around each other.

Iván Pérez’s Flutter is a new duet for Osipova and the superb contemporary dancer Jonathan Goddard. The Nico Muhly soundtrack layers voices chanting numbers. Dressed in gauzy pyjamas, the dancers rush around each other, or vanish into the gloom at the back of the stage. It shows off their speed, and gives Osipova a chance to explore an earthier contemporary quality. Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later, created in 2011, is an aimless duet danced by Osipova with Jason Kittelberger, who grapple and break away.

Alexei Ratmansky’s new Valse Triste needs more focus, but it does have bite. To music by Sibelius, Osipova and Hallberg whirl through classical steps, mood shifting from bravura to melancholy. She repeatedly hurls herself into the air, to be caught by Hallberg – saved or stopped?

Two solos struggle to fill their famous music. Kim Brandstrup’s In Absentia shows Hallberg as a dancer in the studio, lit by the flickering images of a television screen. He keeps being drawn back into a dance to Bach’s Chaconne, seeming both isolated and absorbed by his work. Hallberg gives it a melancholy intensity, but the piece runs out of ideas. In Yuka Oishi’s Ave Maria, Osipova strikes endless emotive poses to Schubert’s Ave Maria. She’s a grandly expressive artist, but here she doesn’t have enough to say.