Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

Natalia Osipova conquered London absolutely when she first danced Kitri in the Bolshoi Ballet’s staging of Don Quixote a few years ago. Adorable in physical wit, in dramatic grace and in the bright blaze of her virtuosity, she was a young divinity destined for great things, and matched with Ivan Vasiliev, an artist no less blessed.

Osipova went on to further conquests in her Bolshoi repertory: as Jeanne in Flames of Paris, as Swanilda, and, against all apparent odds, as Giselle. Nothing in her earlier triumphs really prepared an adoring public for the grace of this reading, or its physical intensity.

Then came the break with Moscow for Osipova and Vasiliev, the move to the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg, the guest engagements hither and yon, and her arrival this week for three performances with the Royal Ballet as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. This is not a ballet in which I believe Osipova has great experience, but her appearance on Wednesday was of extreme interest. Partnered by Carlos Acosta, Osipova showed us an Odette drenched in sorrow, an Odile of malign power. About her dancing there can be little criticism: her luscious dynamics, the generosity of the dance in outline and phrasing, and the delicacy of certain effects (tiniest beaten steps, foot fluttering against foot, as the second act pas de deux ends); the grand shapes that flow from her back and open through her torso – all are magnificently expressive.

The anticipated fireworks in the ballroom are there: fastest double fouettés, an irresistible bravura, and also an exultantly evil character, though I hope she may find a more felicitous version of her solo to dazzle the dummkopf Siegfried. The final scene superbly has that quality of inevitability that marks Osipova’s best readings: dance and feeling speak gloriously to us.

Carlos Acosta is attentive as partner, in secure form as dancer. And the Royal Ballet’s soloists are dutiful and, for the most part, rather too tame – but many cheers for Paul Kay, as peasant and Tarantella dancer, showing how it should be done. Just like Osipova.


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