The team of the international festival of arts Diaghilev P.S. brings to St. Petersburg Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance program, created for Sandler’s Wells. For La Personne it’s been a big honour and happiness to talk to the Prima ballerina with the Royal Ballet a few days before arrival about her pure dance.  

Interview: Olga Ugarova

Photo: Alistair Muir

Translation: Katarina Bornovitskaya

What is Pure Dance?

The dance for me is a special language and it can be absolutely various – on pointes, barefoot, in socks, taking the forms of flamenco or Vienna waltz. I never separate all this and, speaking the truth, I don’t understand when somebody is speaking that the classics is good and contemporary is the thing not even worth trying to understand. In my perception the dance is a single living being. And I always wanted to work both with one and another. That’s why The Pure Dance includes as neo-classics by Antony Tudor and Alexei Ratmansky, and also for example my Ave Maria solo, where I can improvise a little and give in to my mood.      

What is the most complicated in contemporary for a classical dancer?

It seems to me that many companies constantly learn different techniques, because that comes step by step – you need to work on the movements and style, because everything should go very organically. And the most complicated are not even methods, but how the contemporary dancers exist in the stage space and how their bodies feel, because they tell us a story with their plasticity. Everything is different in classical ballet. For plunging naturally into the new state, you need to learn a lot – to watch the good dancers, to attend workshops and master-classes, to work with the teachers – with all the forces trying to get as more information as possible. In classical dance the positions, the balances, the pirouettes have been drummed into us since childhood – you have to be constantly collected, that’s why it’s not always that easy to relax at contemporary classes. When after the classical ballets I start rehearsing something like that, I can’t do it for 3-4 days – the body is simply clamped.    

Do you remember when the contemporary dance has made the first strong impression on you, dividing your life into before and after?  

I’ve always liked all this – since college times I’ve been a fan of contemporary companies. There was no Internet and we watched everything from the videotapes: for example, the shows by Pina Bausch, the ballets by Jiri Kylian or William Forsythe performed by Sylvie Guillem. I remember how the jazz and modern classes have been put into our schedule – we’ve learned contraction release technique. I withstood steadily – everything seemed archaic and longtime non-interesting. Then once I watched Batsheva Dance Company in Tel-Aviv and I had so strong impression that I was ready to stay and dance with them. I always wanted to perform contemporary and, of course, in the beginning it went badly, although I didn’t realize it (laughing). And the last years I met wonderful partners who work in different styles and the projects were born – with Sandler’s Wells, with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Wayne McGregor. They all give me a lot.     

How can we learn to understand the contemporary dance? 

Same as in classics (smiling) – you need to watch a lot and to start with the masters who cause the emotional feedback. Contemporary is perceived on the energy level – this choreography either it comes into you or not. You often hear the phrases about the modern dance like – “Look, they are rolling on the floor – I can’t watch it!” Absolutely in vain (laughing). It happens they are rolling on the floor in such manner that you can’t take your eyes of it. Cherkaoui has many fantastic pieces on the floor for men. Once for the opera show he created choreography – I couldn’t take my eyes of ten men who made unbelievable things in parterre – that moment I had a thought to terminate my efforts (laughing).  

It’s fifth season in Covent Garden for you. Has London already become your home?

I am extremely Russian person, I continue to read Russian books, I don’t like American and English TV. For 3-4 years everything was non-native. Before signing the contract with The Royal Opera House I was travelling a lot, living actually in hotels. It was difficult to stay at one place. I have been accustoming to the city, the theatre, the choreography. But now the company has become my family and the feeling that they love you, wait for you after the shows – that feeling has given me the sense of not being an alien anymore.  

And you’ve loved the British dance language!  

I’ve been very lucky, because Kenneth MacMillan is absolutely my choreographer, very close to my psycho type. Maybe, it has been worth to move to London only just for dancing his ballets and working with the people for whom they have been created. They even say here – “It’s a pity you’ve been born too late to get into his arms!” He has lots of stories, drama, acting, open and sensual plasticity – the language that suits me so much. MacMillan created a lot for Lynn Seymour, my favourite British ballerina. She is unbelievably feminine, sexy and possesses the outstanding charm – she is fantastic! I love so much the roles in English ballet created especially for her. I think these roles are very close to me. 

This week you dance The Sleeping Beauty in Covent Garden, where so many things have been made by Frederick Ashton. 

He is also one of my favourite choreographers. His musicality and dramatic nature are brought to the absolute. But I’ve been brought up in different tradition and I am entrusted to perform his more actor’s ballets – A Month in the Country, Marguerite and Armand, The Dream, Rhapsody to the music by Sergei Rachmaninoff. And where his totally plastic performances are concerned I just go and watch our English girls and I am so touched by their perfection. 

It will be the last Pure Dance show in St. Petersburg. What project are planned ahead? 

I want to start with telling that I have a show about Olga Spessivtseva – Two Feet. We performed it last year at the Adelaide Festival – I speak a lot in this show, by the way. Besides Didi Delman is staging Carmen for me. And more, my dream has come true – we are working on Cinderella project – the dance movie. I will definitely bring something of these to Moscow.

Cinderella, why is it your dream?  

I passionately love this music and this image – with Vladimir Varnava we’ve even created the ballet about Isadora Duncan to this musical score. But my destiny has never brought me together with all this at the same time. Finally, I met a wonderful girl, a choreographer, dancer and director, close friend of my fiancé Jason Kittelberger, who is the phenomenon contemporary dancer. I’ve come and watched how they work, we’ve started talking and this cool idea has been born – we want to shoot Cinderella movie. We’ll start this summer!   

The audience loves you and always waits for you not only in your home Moscow, but also in St. Petersburg where you’ve worked in Mikhailovsky Theatre and sometimes perform in Mariinsky Theatre. Do you feel the connection with this city?

I always remember with joy the period, connected with Mikhailovsky Theatre. There I danced my first Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliette by Nacho Duato, Laurencia with Ivan Vasiliev. So many great people and teachers that have been in my life are from St. Petersburg, for example, Irina Kolpakova – I’ve been working with her in ABT in New York, or Sergei Vikharev – it’s so painful to believe he is not with us anymore. Every time coming to St. Petersburg, it always seems to me that I get back to the past on the time machine. I realize that I am a kind of alien here, but it’s so interesting and pleasant to be in this city.      

Lately you started to lead the Instagram page, but before you ignored the social media. And it is absolutely unique – there are no staged photos, professional shootings, interviews. Why is it so alive?

I didn’t want to lead Instagram, but Jason advised me and told that it was important for those who followed me. I use social media not for posting about myself – it’s interesting to write my friends, to watch how the dancers are, who presents the premiere and what is going on in the dance world. It’s been decided to make this account. But I don’t want to think up – the real life is interesting for me.  

Pure Dance Program:

The Leaves are Fading by Antony Tudor. Dancers: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. Composer: Antonín Dvořák

Flutter by Iván Pérez. Dancers: Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard. Composer: Nico Muhly

In Absentia by Kim Brandstrup. Dancer: David Hallberg. Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

Six Years Later by Roy Assaf. Dancers: Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger
Music: Deefly, Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, Reflections of my life by Marmalade

Valse Triste by Alexei Ratmansky. Dancers: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. Composer: Jean Sibelius

Ave Maria by Yuka Oishi. Dancer: Natalia Osipova. Composer: Franz Schubert

Under the support of Diaghilev P. S. Festival

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