If I had only seen Act I of this afternoon’s matinée performance, I would have left the house happy.
To put this into context, going to the Opera House was today a bit of a longer journey than normal, due to the vagaries of public transport. No need to go into it in depth, suffice to say I don’t live close to the place. Even so, with afternoons like this, all is forgotten: expense, time – Time itself, in moments. One comes away enriched, moved, and (pun excused?) transported.
Why transported? Why enriched, moved – to close to tears at points? The power of dance, and above all, the power of narrative. The power of dancers, and one in particular: Natalia Osipova. She is a storyteller in movement par excellence: any steps she is given to dance are imbued with narrative power and logic, character’s well delineated, stories told. (She must be a choreographer’s dream.)
Her facility to convey variously pathos and joy and all shades inbetween comes across not just in movement. To be sure, the grander gestures, steps and pantomime (for lack of a softer word) project all the way to the back of the house, but it is the expressions of her face which pierce the heart.
For parts like Tatiana it helps that Osipova is slight of build. Her already quite “neotenic” features (one could variously say Elfin, gracile, childlike etc.) give her a distinct advantage from the start. So then, her Tatiana of Act I is utterly believable as an innocent in the world of adults. Her mannerisms are a child’s. Her astonishment at the appearance of Matthew Golding’s Onegin fully convincing. One could go on, moment by moment, recalling a sustained performance of great skill. I shall say more about her later.
The first Act’s dream/mirror scene pas de deux enchanted, here read a little differently than Nuñéz and Soares. The latter’s seemed fixed in a confidence of sexual ease or intimacy, taking a more physical than spiritual tone – and this is nothing to be sneered at. This afternoon’s Onegin and Tatiana danced in a more Romantic mode. They tended to expression of ideal bliss, rather than that “incipient sexual ecstasy” I had thought of with the other pairing. Both readings work well, and serve the story with equal force. Indeed, the Golding/Osipova treatment comes across as logical – this is the dream of an innocent, her innocence unsullied and shown to us over the course of the Act. To have it otherwise – Osipova’s Tatiana more sexually aware – would have come across as a bit of a non-sequitur. Even so, with both couples, Cranko’s steps come through, tinged with abandon – seduction in movement.
The same blazing speed as with Nuñez and Soares was here in evidence yet even more thrilling. As with her Manon, where she was partnered by Carlos Acosta, Osipova seems to feel comfortable “on the edge” of risk. So too here: again, fast speeds, risk, the thrill of watching risk unfold. And thrill it does. One’s pulse quickens on watching.
And to return to one of her manifest gifts, it quickens on watching Osipova act. She has a surety of stagecraft, innate or learned. In bed, trying to see if her Nurse has gone, acting like a 9-year-old kid, she makes us chuckle. When Nurse has gone, her Tatiana truly races across the stage (artistic in just these few steps!) to her desk for the letter scene. Taking up the paper as if to decide her future, we see it tremble timorously in time with her heartbeat. We see the pen hesitate before committing words which might decide he future. This is wonderful, beguiling artifice, and one senses at curtain calls that Ospiova knows it, which has led to some disagreement over her appeal among ballet fans.
To continue with more stand-out moments: earlier in the courting scene we see her reach for Onegin, and it is a desperate sight – Osipova does it so well. Again, that face, the expressions that pass over it, or stay there. (The pain of youth!) And that same face looks to Onegin constantly even when with another throughout the Act I ball scene, as if transfixed. Her solo there was wonderful, the statement of the steps coming through clearly: “look at me, notice me, I love you.” and if her landing sounded a bit heavy as she left the ballroom, our applause immediately after was not diminished for it.
A few moments later, the harsh cruelty of Golding’s proud Onegin was in fierce evidence. Handing her letter back, he crushes it, tears it into pieces, places it in her hands, closing them as if to say in the most patronising, icy tone you have ever heard “stop that nonsense, there’s a good little dear”. A sneer, and he’s gone. And if we saw that icy tone, almost hearing it, we certainly heard Tatiana’s heartache; Osipova’s Tatiana audibly sobbing, broken.
To trace the arc of this outstanding dramatic performance to its conclusion – before moving to the others who danced (because, this cannot be only a paen for Osipova, and as one commentator on a site says, it is not called the Royal Osipova Company…) Act III has much to offer a Tatiana, and to convince, we need to see a Tatiana transformed. And see one, we did.
It was rather astonishing to see this difference. Osipova effected a sensational transformation. The girl had gone, here was all woman, Tatiana regnant: schoolgirl naïf had become a jewel of society. No wonder Onegin’s astonishment, thunderstruck by her re-appearance. Thunderstruck in part by her wonderful partnership with Bennett Gartside’s Gremin, the nobility and assuredness of her demeanour there almost unbelievable. And yet, this was the same Tatiana we had seen. This was believable. Despite appearances, this was indeed the girl from those summer’s ago, and the climactic Act III pas de deux showed even us the truth of this.
Golding and Osipova acquitted themselves finely here*. The same fierceness and speed were there as in Act I, the same pathos and desperation as Soares and Nuñéz displayed. I do think Soares gave a little more, or showed this ardour a little better than Golding*, but that is by the bye: the end result was the same. In dismissing Onegin, this Tatiana is so conflicted that she cannot even bring herself to form a commanding pointing finger. As mouthpiece for her heart, the hand cannot speak a final judgement. It was a clawed, gnarled thing, that single finger, and it – in fact her whole being – showed anger: anger at herself, anger at Onegin, anger at her past, anger at her future, the future with Gremin. Loveless? perhaps not so much, but it is a different love. Defeated, Onegin rushes out to oblivion and here (binoculars ready) the dénouement. Osipova seemed rendered a piteous husk, a crumbling soul stripped raw, not grief-stricken as with Nuñéz, but uncomprehending, empty and numb. The lacerating pain gave way to a piercing silent howl and here, intentionally or unintentionally timed late, her cry to God fell just outside the closing music’s timing. If intended, a masterly stroke: bare desolation unencumbered with the timing of the music made it appear more human, more spontaneous, more naked and more real. If unintended, a happy circumstance. Massive applause, deservedly. The woman in front of me was unable to move let alone applaud.
I said “wow” to myself about ten times that afternoon, which is a good amount for me, and may or may not have uttered an expletive as the curtain fell, and may or may not have Got A Bit Emotional*. A lady I started talking to on the train (sorry, lady, you had a program, I was keen to talk to someone about the show) said that Osipova is on the way to greatness, true best of all time greatness. Time will tell. Brava, Osipova.
And so, enough hype, enough of Osipova (until the next time*)! The ballet is more than just her. Golding’s Onegin was vulpine to Soares’ lupine interpretation, less given to those scything and incisive gestures. Soares’s older Onegin was a picture of an aged Lothario, Golding’s not so much silver fox as fading stud. The passage of time was kinder to him, which for me isn’t quite what the piece demanded. Nevertheless, he did his job more than serviceably: a noble mein throughout, though what an arrogant one! His “God!-what-have-I-done?!” moment at the end of Act II memorable indeed, and I have already mentioned his fine partnering above.
Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi‘s Lensky and Olga made a delightful couple, more convincing in their togetherness than Muntagirov and Takada. I truly think this comes down to nothing more facile than “oh, they make a nice couple” sort of feeling, which is terrible, but human. What can I say. If as a couple they convince then I thought them less so individually (perhaps the opposite of M + T!). Ball’s pre-duel solo didn’t quite bring out the poetry as I’d hoped. The word which came to mind was “centripetal” as opposed to “centrifugal”: where Muntagirov seemed to yearn and entreat Fate, Ball seemed more concentrated within himself, as if in introspection. I am of course, biased (I like Vadim Muntagirov a lot) and a total non-expert.
In his interaction with the two sisters though as they try and stop his fight, I thought Ball was better than Muntagirov, and he really did push Naghdi quite hard to the floor. Naghdi herself delighted in the first Act party scene, her Olga almost delighting herself in her femininity and flirtatiousness. As above, her pas de deux with Ball in Act I was carried off wonderfully.
Bennet Gartside was a handsome and convincing Gremin who partnered Osipova delightfully in the ball scene. I gather Gary Avis also has played this part and I can imagine him doing wonderfully too.
Upon leaving the auditorium, I overheard an older gentleman talking to his companions. He said “there is no greater sorrow than to remember happiness*.” This of course Onegin in eleven words and it was here well told. I think the principals mainly knew it too, as Soares and Nuñéz did in their performance. Mr Golding looked very shaken and moved at the end, and stayed so. Osipova less so, which leads one to wonder how much she needs to give of herself to give what we saw, which then makes me think just how great an artist she is already, and could become, if such a performance seems to tax her without great (outward) emotional cost. Of course, in the dressing room, she may reflect, may dissolve in tears, but I doubt it. Her artistry seems too natural to need to draw on life: she need only dance to speak of life. Hers is a gift we should mark, and nourish and treasure.
We were a nice audience, though quite full of older ballet-goers, where I had expected a much younger audience. Applause for the opening of Act III (ok, the set does look nice, and there’s lot of pretty princessess and guys with shiny medals – and footmen!) and applause too for the terribly energetic muzhik running jetés from the peasant girls which cross the stage twice, neither of which applause happened at the Soares/Nuñéz evening. No footstomping or overwhelming “bravi!”s either, except from the guy behind me who in his enthusiasm kept saying “brava!” to everyone.
Orchestrally, things got a bit dodgy for about 8 bars in the ballroom scene, lines getting away from each other very noticeably, coherence getting a bit loose, but this was momentary. In certain other moments, e.g. Onegin’s lift of Tatiana in the Mirror pas de deux where see is held and risen straight, as if to be worshipped, and as if hardly believing her height, (a face above adolescent clouds?) the orchestra generated a lovely warmth of tone. So too for Lensky’s solo. But again, some bits still felt rushed a tad – the corps de ballet Act III ballroom scene for example.
I was pleased to see these boys:
again. such simple joy and fluency of dance from all. Everyone did a great job!
Twitter praise roundup:
* I swear Golding nearly let Ospiova go backwards over his head/dropped her at one point, such was the height/angle of elevation when he lifted her. And, it must be said, THOSE LIFTS!
*also, like I say, Soares does that “Ballet Run” really really well.
* after a bit of reflection and as only one piece of criticism, I think Osipova could have drawn Tatiana’s movement from “YES!” to “NO” in Act III a little better, but I probably missed a key moment whilst fumbling around for my binoculars.
*which will be Swan Lake – or Onegin, if I decide to go again!
*he may have added “when sorrowing” or something, which means he was quoting Dante. Also, Proust would disagree 🙂