Russian ballet star delights Hong Kong audiences

March 16, 2023 09:41
Natalia Osipova as Giselle (Photo: Regis Lansac)

Ballet galas are rare in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Ballet used to host an international stars gala every spring. The Hong Kong Arts Festival last organised a ballet gala programme in 2018 featuring the Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova. This year’s Festival showcases another fellow Russian ballerina, Natalia Osipova, who has been one of the most sought after international ballet stars in the world for over a decade.

Osipova, a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet in London since 2013 and a former principal of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, first attracted critical acclaim in 2006 during the Bolshoi tour to London. I was lucky to catch Osipova then in London in “Don Quixote” and can still remember the sheer excitement of her dancing back then when she was only 20.

“Force of Nature” is the title of the touring gala programme that she has brought to the final week of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival. It was shorter than the programme that she brought to the New York City Center only two months ago. This Hong Kong programme consisting of seven items lasted only 90 minutes including an interval. Osipova was joined by four male dancers – two classical and two contemporary.

“Giselle” is one of Osipova’s most famous roles which she has danced worldwide, and it’s fitting that the pas de deux from Act 2 of “Giselle” opened this programme. Her strength still showed in her light and airy jumps. She was strongly partnered by Jacopo Tissi, a guest principal dancer of La Scala Ballet in Milan. Tall and handsome, Tissi dazzled with his technical virtuosity.

Later in the second half, Tissi also impressively danced a solo “The Ninth Wave” choreographed by Bryan Arias. However it was far too brief.

The only tribute to the Royal Ballet was a short male solo “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” set to Gluck’s music by Sir Frederick Ashton, a legendary choreographer of the company. It was well danced by Reece Clarke, a principal of the Royal Ballet, but his phrasing could have been smoother.

Clarke also partnered Osipova in “Valse Triste”, a duet created for Osipova by Alexei Ratmansky. Ratmansky, a Ukranian choreographer based in New York, is regarded as a leading classical chorographer today. Set to music by Sibelius, the choreography is musical and conveys Osipova’s strength and personality. The upbeat mood is however abruptly cut short by a sad moment at the end. This was by far the best danced piece in the whole evening.

Another more contemporary duet was “Ashes”, choreographed by Jason Kittelberger, Osipova’s husband, for both of them. This long duet was about past memories. Osipova carried a long scarf on her entrance, and later embraced a grey carpet. After an anguished solo, she wrapped herself with the long scarf at the end.

Osipova, Kittelberger was joined by Robbie Moore in “Qutb” by the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, which was the longest piece in the evening. Set to electronic music as well as Arabic chanting, this trio is a dark and grim work. Could the three dancers represent aliens? Occasionally some interesting geometrical shapes were formed by the three dancers.

The “Dying Swan” was a good effective closing item for galas, though Osipova’s rendition was conventional and offered no new insights.

It was a treat for Hong Kong audiences to finally see Natalia Osipova. But overall this 90-minute programme “Force of Nature” was too short, and more selections from the classical staples would have been welcomed by the public. Osipova’s second programme this weekend will be “Two Feet”, a two-hour solo choreographed by the Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard.

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veteran dance critic