Thoughts on Natalia Osipova in Giselle: Act II Grand Pas de Deux

February 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

Natalia Osipova (Photo: Dancelines)

If Balanchine had been asked to re-choreograph Giselle, Natalia Osipova’s interpretation of the title role would not be very far from the outcome. Osipova’s Giselle, particularly in the Act II Grand Pas de Deux, is so devoid of classical purity that one wonders if she has already dedicated herself to contemporary ballet, dancing one of the most fundamentally lyrical roles with fervent expression and considerably relaxed attention to form. While striving to hyperextend her legs in the arabesque penchees, the foot supporting the body betrayed a highly noticeable wobble. Given how difficult the position is, less than perfect balance is forgivable. However, when the wavering occurs several times, each owing to the hyperextension, it is clear that sound technique is being sacrificed for drama. The positioning of her head had the same motivation—never in keeping with the line of her body, but lifted high in mournful agony or dipped low in resigned sadness. It was her arms, though, that provided the most glaring break with Giselle’s lyricism. Not once during the pas de deux did her arms form the bras en couronne that the original Petipa choreography calls for. Indeed, her arms never seemed to be in any particular position—they hung limply in the air with the elbows bent, wrists broken, and hands above the head, or at her side with her hunched back emphasizing her melancholy. All the usual praises heaped on Giselles (ethereal, breathtakingly beautiful, divine) cannot be applied to Osipova’s performance. It was, however, credible—and this may be what she ultimately intended. This Giselle expressed her unconditional love and grief in a way that would not be out of place in any other art form, or even real life. As a testament to Osipova’s artistry, her breaks with classicism come across as deliberate, as opposed to sincere and emotive but lacking artistic coherence.

It is worth noting that Osipova came dangerously close on a few occasions to rendering her Giselle a daring and admirable but ultimately unskilled performance. Natalia Osipova’s bravura technique is unparalleled. After her debut in Giselle was announced, everyone wondered whether such a technical wunderkind could be right for the role. Their doubts were very nearly justified in the pas de deux as Osipova interspersed the legato movement with chaines tournes executed at lightning speed and jumps that propelled as much as they elevated her body. The effect of the Myrthe-like steps is jarring and leaves one wondering whether she is truly artistically innovative or merely has the intention to be so but lacks the virtuosity to achieve it.

When I first saw Osipova’s Grand Pas de Deux, I thought to myself, “Everyone thinks gymnastic extensions are controversial? Wait till they see this.” Giselle is a classical role, emphasizing expression through form. Osipova’s neoclassical approach does not make her a bad Giselle, for she brings such raw emotion that it might be ultimately superfluous to find a form to capture its expression. Someone once said that Osipova could not be Giselle—she did not have the soul for it. Who would have thought that it is in fact the technique that she lacks?

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