Sunday, 22 February 2015

Osipova & Golding 'Come-of-Age' with the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

If one were to take away a single thing from this evening, it must be the maturing of the previously much maligned Osipova/Golding partnership. It is a partnership that started on shaky grounds, but has shown superlative results as of late, with the recent run of 'Onegin' bringing the kind of stalls-shaking, foot-stamping reception that is rarely witnessed at Covent Garden. 

This is a point I wish to express strongly. It has seemed to me, many times over the past year, that the rather aggressive vendetta fought against them by ROH regulars has verged on petty and childish. With such a coveted acquisition as the immensely technically and artistically gifted Osipova, a defector from the Bolshoi and a new breed of ballerina, nepotist hopes were high for a homegrown partnership between one of the Royal's established stars, with McCrae and Watson frequently and hopefully named. Yet, the subsequent acquisition of Golding, impliedly to partner Osipova, left many cold. His name, while well respected in ballet circles, carries far less weight than hers, which has reached starry echelons. Apparently, this was enough to ruin his favour and opinion turned against him before he had even arrived. It became not uncommon to hear in the Covent Garden corridors people recounting their performances with the repeated anecdote "Oh, she was marvellous, of course - all the marks of the Bolshoi - but he, dreadful!"

Yet, I find this early accusation carried little substance. Many of these preconceived notions were vented despite no full-length productions being performed by the pair in the 2013-14 season (Osipova remained injured for the entire 'Sleeping Beauty' run and their only joint performances took place in Ashton's 'The Dream', which, as a thoroughly English fare, was never likely to achieve widespread acclaim for two new principals). Similarly, this season has seen an onstage fall claim Osipova for the entirety of 'Don Quixote', leaving 'Onegin' as their first full-length ballet - and of course, we now know it to be a great success. To qualify the accusations a little, it must be noted that despite not dancing together, audience critics have failed to warm to Golding in any of his earlier performances with other dancers - but I hope I will now hear less of the deplorably condescending remark that; "Well, he's just not on her level, is he?" In all honesty, while Osipova has stunned repeatedly since her arrival, she has yet to lay down any truly remarkable partnerships - tonight is the closest she has come to achieving that euphoria.  

The best artists augment the performance of those around them; and that was evident today, but perhaps not from the quarter that we were expecting. Osipova is physically and emotionally hampered when it comes to Odette. She has the coveted Russian arms, to be sure, those willowy limbs which seem to have two joints more than anyone else. But she is not made in the way of the great Odettes, such as Makhalina and Zakharova, who are lithe and gracefully tall. Their Odette will carry an everlasting air of restraint and tragedy, the very length of their arms cradling all the sorrow in the world. Osipova is not so delicately conditioned. She is athletic and strong, with an impish smile and fiendishly fiery mannerisms. So profound is her technique that it exudes power; this Odette can balance just as well without any prince. Odette, that layered role which has to show reserve, grace, cold beauty and forlornness is challenging for her from the outset.

Thus, it is telling that Osipova's Odette is at its strongest in the presence of Golding's Siegfried. Her first appearance on stage was a little too skitterish, her alarm at his presence a little too abrupt that one wondered how she might contain her mighty energy for the still, marble like beauty of the white pas de deux. Yet, in Golding's grip she was transformed. Gone was the impetuosity and child slight dramatic flair. The white pas de deux passed beautifully and showed real feeling between the two leads, with his steadying presence carrying her through beatifically.

Yet, entirely predictably, Act III was where the electricity really lit the stage. The reason, I believe, that Osipova has difficulties embracing Odette is because she artistically operates best where there is human folly. As shown by her Manon and Tatiana, no one portrays the power of human fallibility better than Natalia Osipova - she is able to canvas perniciousness, longing and regret with the most vivid brush. She immerses herself so entirely in character flaws, that the audience feel that the dancer and the character have completely assimilated and we fail to tell where one ends and the other begins. Odette, in a truly romantic fashion, represents an ideal. She is perfect like a deity, poised and regal. Osipova on stage hungers to feel - she arches her neck all the way back and unfurls powerful swan wings - Odette is a cold creature and ill-met by such fire. 

Odile is much more real in a worldly sense and as her, Osipova becomes breathtaking. She is wicked - unapologetically so - but also dazzlingly unattainable and gloriously sexy. There is a fiercely fiery spark about her Odile, so much so that it is altogether too easy to see why Siegfried falls so helplessly into the trap. And of course, those fouettes - taken at such breakneck, incredible speed, doubled to start with and completely in time with the orchestra who almost sounded like they ran themselves ragged trying to keep up with the dancer on stage. It was virtuosic, powerful and utterly, utterly glorious. Golding's Act III variations were also executed with the marvellous bravado of a foolish young lover - truly wonderful. 

There were several other standout performances in the long cast. The two swans of Hamilton and Medizabal were wonderfully nuanced and added some much needed grace; I should think that Hamilton will have her own Odette opportunity before long. Avis' Rothbart was, as always, an utter joy to watch (although a little girl in my nearby vicinity did refer to his white Act getup as that of 'a big, dirty pigeon'.) Rather than a menace, he was a conniving opponent, most notably when skilfully manipulating the dangerous Odile to his gleeful bidding. Another high point came in the form of the effervescent Naghidi, who recently absolutely burst into Covent Garden's affections with her brilliant Olga, accompanied by Kay, who gave us a cheerfully wonderful rendition of the Neapolitan Dance. The corps in the white acts gave valiant efforts, making the most of a small stage and very fussy costuming.

Whatever grievances remain are completely removed from the dancers, and are all to do with the production which, if rumours are true, will be retired in the near future - and not a moment too soon! There is not enough that can be said against it. Despite the utter zeal of Act III, nothing will forgive the fact that the set resembles Harrods at Christmastime, fairy lights and all. The costumes in the busy Acts I and III are headache inducing, with too many colours and style reverberating off all the gaudy gold slathered ornaments. Despite so many runs, controversy still wages over the lack of 'pancake' tutus for the swans - in the right seats, the feathery effect of the current choice is passable, but from others, it looks like very cheap netting. Besides, it is this viewer's opinion that there is just something so otherworldly fantastical about the white swans in their great white tutus standby sculpturally still, against a dreamy, minimalist backdrop - it is a classical balletic symbol of grace, beauty and mystery. The Royal Ballet production is, in every scene, entirely too cluttered, noisy and simply detracts from the sheer beauty of the artistry at work, from Tchaikovsky's rampaging score to the outlandish but beloved tale. It becomes a showpiece, a gilded ornament as opposed to a living, breathing work of art. 

Such annoyances aside, with two Osipova/Golding dates remaining, one should make every concerted effort to catch what appears to be a enormously exciting trip to the lake.  

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