Solo for Two, Coliseum, London – review

“It’s worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.” With these words Joseph Fouché, Napoleon’s chief of police, dismissed a botched assassination, and they came to mind during the macabre events at the Coliseum on Wednesday night which involved Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the quaintly titled Solo for Two.

This malign affair is devised to feature the grand gifts of these darlings of the public, and proves to be less a display of artistry than a martyrdom of their considerable powers. Here were dancers whose bravura and irresistible verve have blazed in Don Quixote, in Flames of Paris; who have (and Osipova notably here) illuminated a western repertory with those Russian gifts of intense feeling, technical grandeur, and what seems an intuitive sympathy. And there they ill-advisedly were at the Coliseum, abusing their skills – at something less than full power – in a gimcrack assembly of unwise, crassly made, opportunistically shoddy dances, their energies used (vampire fashion) to feed the inane posturing of their choreography.

Of the three stagings on display, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s soggy, sentimental view of domestic violence in Mercy and Ohad Naharin’s nagging, lumpen Paso seemed to me devoid of any merit. For seekers after beefcake, Vasiliev’s heavy musculature might have been of passing interest, but his dancing was thumpingly obvious. Osipova was betrayed by each and every step she was given.

It was the final work, Arthur Pita’s Facada, which provided the evening with its flimsy justification. Set to Portuguese fado music admirably played by Frank Moon, with a witty set by Jean-Marc Puissant, with a clear dramatic scheme – vengeful bride destroys numskull groom – and with the splendid Elizabeth McGorian as an elegant accomplice, Osipova and Vasiliev were given chances to use some small part of their true talents. The piece is obvious; the dancers’ skills are made too boisterous (and the continued display of Vasiliev’s heavyweight physique is tedious), but the production had a resonance, a dramatic imagery, dismally lacking in the rest of this insufferable event.

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