Irene Kukota, Natasha Butterwick
This is the sequel to the first part of our interview with Natalia Osipova, the Principal of the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.
Natalia, are you a person, who can easily be carried away?
Oh, very much so! However, it is very hard for me to get carried away. Once it happens, I can take a snap decision in 2 seconds, but it must be something extraordinary. More often than not I do not pay attention. However, when something clicks within me, then yes, I am one of those people who can decide to leave everything behind and travel to the end of the world in a second, upturning their whole life in a blink. That is, I am absolutely impulsive, very sensitive to emotions and subject to feelings. However, the people or events that would prompt me to act this way are quite rare.
And the contract with the Perm theatre was one of such things?
My friends warn me: “Just make sure that you won’t leave London in this manner”. Yes, I can occasionally decide that I want to start a new life and leave the previous one behind. Still, such radical decisions do go through a certain filter in my mind. If they are not taken within first seconds, then I subject them to analysis, and things take on a different light, as I approach them more rationally. The main thing is not to take a reckless decision at first instant.
So, this is how you ended up performing McMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Perm theatre? So, which British choreographers do you prefer?
Undoubtedly, Kenneth McMillan is my most favourite choreographer. And I am excited about the opportunity to explore his choreography with the company where he staged his ballets and where all the nuances and movements are handed down very accurately, as they had been originally conceived– this all is very valuable to me. I also love the Frederick Ashton, who is very hard to perform, especially for Russian dancers, as they have a different school training and for whom dancing Ashton is like mastering another language. Only very few rarely get it the way it had been originally intended by the choreographer, and it looks very interesting. Just add your own highlights, and you will always get an interesting result. Naturally, there are wonderful contemporary choreographers, such as Christopher Wheeldon or Wayne McGregor — I have worked with both of them. They are regaled as the best choreographers in the world right now. Sadler’s Wells theatre also gives me the opportunity to work with such contemporary choreographers as Russel Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Arthur Pita. And Matthew Bourne‘s performances are routinely run there.
Have you ever wished to dance with Maliphant?
Yes, I have, but, unfortunately, he does not dance anymore. Looks like I arrived a bit late. However, he choreographed a duet with Sergei Polunin for my programme.
And which role is your all-time favourite?
I have several such roles. I really like to dance Juliette in McMillan’s version. And I enjoy dancing Tatiana in Onegin in John Cranko’s production.
And Giselle is my most successful classical performance: as it is very different, it can also be interpreted in a variety of ways. Sometimes the performance turns out well. And sometimes, like the recent performances at the Royal Opera House, it can become intense. The performances when one is very keenly aware of the characters and their emotional state, may become memory of a lifetime. And these ones were my personal interpretation. Not every role is so well suited to my own personality, and of the whole classical repertoire, these ones are the closest to me.
Which other roles would you like to perform in addition to the ones that you have already had?
My biggest dream is to dance as Cinderella – I have not done it yet. And I would also love to dance the Little Mermaid. Yes, I do love such characters. They are very self-sacrificing, very sweet, and yet they are very profound, noble and subtle souls. I tend to like such slightly “borderline” characters, they are very close to my heart. Naturally, I also like dramatic roles.
I have recently been pondering over who else I would love to play, and it occurred to me that I would enjoy dancing Mary Poppins! After all, there are very few children’s plays staged these days. I thought of my favourite Mary Poppins film with Natalia Andreichenko, and became very enthusiastic about the idea. This could be a fantastic staged play or a ballet for children. I hope that life will show what else I could dance, for I have already performed in a great range of roles.
The roles I am currently playing are mostly dramatic and this is why I wish for something light, positive and magical. Also, my autumn contemporary programme in Sadler’s Wells is coming close. And then I hope that we will stage a new project called Mama based on the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. This is going to be another dramatic performance, where I will play the main role with a male dancer. This will be followed by the project Cinderella (as this is my project, it will be staged somewhere else, not here).
Please, tell us about your upcoming Sadler’s Wells programme.
This project is scheduled for September. As I have mentioned, it is a contemporary programme with two pieces staged for me by the Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf and Portuguese choreographer Iván Peréz . They are going to be my major performances. I will be working on them with other contemporary dancers. The problem is that when all the dancers are classical, the choreographers attempt to adapt to them. Still, I would rather adapt to them, because I wish to learn something new and perform the piece as it had been originally intended. Sometimes, it also may not work because it is the matter of time, and the way one’s mind and body process the new movements. Normally, the body is a little bit behind, as it needs some time for adjustment. If one is given sufficient time to rehearse with the choreographer or with a dancer who is also performing, then after a while, it all sinks in. I am also expecting another remarkable new work by Alexei Ratmansky. The initial plans were that we were going to perform it with David (David Hallberg – Natalia’s dancing partner at the ROH). So, I hope that this all will happen one day.
And how do you manage to combine this with your work at the Royal Opera House?
For some reason, they are very forgiving. In my turn, I make sure that I do not get distracted by anything else while rehearsing and performing here. Luckily, I have a wonderful team of assistants who deal with the administrative side of my other projects. They organise everything for me so well, that the only thing which remains for me to get done, is literally to step in and take part in the project. I am very grateful to them, for without their help I hardly would have been able to do this all myself. And the number of plans and projects increases with every day!
N.B.: Would you like to try your hand as a choreographer yourself?
I would be interested to give it a try, but I am not yet sure if I am capable of it. And if I am not certain that I am capable of something, I will never venture into the field in which I am not a professional. To make this happen, I need to put my mind to it, concentrate on the task and invest my time, effort, passion and talent into the whole process. Unfortunately, I can not do this right now. But I will definitely try it sometime later.
This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Marius Petipa. Are you working on something special to commemorate this?
Petipa was a remarkable personality, who, practically, singe-handedly created the entire classical repertoire. And this June I will be performing at the Bolshoi Theatre at the gala evening commemorating his anniversary. Talking about London, I have not heard of any upcoming anniversary celebrations. At least, the Royal Ballet does not seem to be making any special plans.
N.B: We heard of the new Swan Lake scheduled for this May- June. Have you already been rehearsing this new version of the classical ballet?
Yes, we have recently started rehearsing. It is the work of the young choreographer Liam Scarlett, who has recently staged Frankenstein at the ROH. This will be my first working experience with him. The new version will still retain a lot from the traditional classical production: the white set, the swans, the duo. The choreographer is planning to slightly shift the focus of the performance and change the last scene. Nevertheless he is very careful in his treatment of the classical choreography. Actually, his version is closer to the Russian one, as I now understand. His own choreography will feature in the fourth scene (the dances he will stage himself) not be processing old versions. Perhaps, he might change something else, but he will leave the famous black pas de deux and the white scene virtually unchanged.
N.B.: He is also planning to introduce new costumes and decorations?
Yes, costumes and decorations. So we are waiting for them impatiently.
N.B.: How do you choose a dancing partner for a performance?
In fact, I am always being consulted on a choice of the partner for the performance. Here, you will never perform with someone you do not wish to dance. They offer their recommendations or make a suggestion with the phrase: “I believe that you should be dancing together.” And more often than not I would heed their recommendation because they are very professional in choosing dancers for the performance. They make sure they create a balanced duo. Nevertheless, they always ask me first.
In the new version of the Swan Lake I will appear four times, and I will be dancing with Matthew Ball. We first danced together in Giselle, and very successfully. He is a very pleasant person, very talented, handsome and with a very big heart. And I hope that we are going to be an inspiration for each other. So, to me, this is a very pleasant partnership.
N.B.: And your American partner David Hallberg, is he still recovering?
Unfortunately, yes. It will take him another month and a half. Hopefully, we will dance with him in New York this May. I keep my fingers crossed that everything will go well. His injury was a great shock, because David is my favourite partner and I have waited for a long time to have the opportunity to dance with him. And then he could not continue dancing in Giselle — his debut perfromance in London — and had to miss Manon this season. The fact that he has been recovering from his injury for three years now is a great shame.
N.B: And you still have a good working relationship with choreographer Wayne McGregor ?
Yes, he mainly does one-act ballets. We worked on Woolf Works, and I was among the first performers of his choreography. And there was another ballet — Tetractys — set to Bach’s music. And it so happened that I was among the first performers of this work, as well. It was an interesting experience. I hope, he will stage other new works here. He is very inventive and charged with energy. And I really like this: his energy and his unorthodox approach, his outlook. On the one hand, these works are not about history or spirituality. There is much physicality in them, these works are more about the dancer and what he radiates on the stage. Therefore, when the artists (and we have very good ones here) appear onstage and start moving, radiating all these energies, the effect is astonishing.
What inspires you? Restores your strength? After all, you fly and tour a lot to perform on various world stages.
I no longer have to fly as frequently as I used to, so I no longer have these flight-related stress and fatigue. However, I often get tired from the stress related to performances, rehearsals, or from being overwhelmed by the characters I have to get into or ballets I have to perform at the same time. For this reason, reading does not count as rest, because I have a busy schedule and must concentrate on roles and characters which quickly follow one after the other. In itself, this stretches me mentally a great deal, for there is a lot of mental work to be done, to get into each character. Still, surprisingly, although tired, I sometimes do not want to rest, but wish to remain in this state: it can be strangely pleasant sometimes. When I get completely worn out, I stop all communication for a while. I also like to restore myself through sleep, through remaining in silence.
When I am in a better shape I love talking to friends on the phone. I have wonderful friends with whom I can sometimes talk on the phone for three hours running. We talk about everything. And I also like to visit friends or meet them, have a long conversation — this is my favourite pastime. In my turn, I am not particularly hospitable, because I have not got enough time for this. .
I would love to have an animal, because it also helps to relax and reduce levels of stress, however, with my schedule any poor animal is doomed to torment. Even if there might be someone looking after the animal, my long absences will make my animal suffer.
Oh well. Plants seem to behave in a similar way. They wither.
And this is why I keep only cacti. They are patient. I water them once a month and they sit there, gladdening my eye.
My weeks are usually busy, so I have time for myself only in the evenings or on weekends. If I am lucky, I can be free after 3 p.m. on a weekday, but this is not typical. So, I try to go out somewhere either on Saturday or Sunday: to the opera, if there is something of interest to me, or to a dance performance. Sometimes, I just like to watch a good film at home in a relaxed atmosphere. After all, I cannot be providing the inspiration non-stop from the stage, I also need to get a charge of new emotions, become inspired myself. I like travelling: changing one’s environment can relieve a prolonged stress, And if it is a beautiful place, beauty also heals. I like it when the weather is fine, for I find great pleasure in spending time in nature. And in general, I am a person who likes to be on their own: I feel more comfortable with myself,
Quite recently, I became an avid museum-goer: I feel very inspired by art. And if I wish to have some peace and calm, something to my heart’s content, I go to a museum and look at paintings.
To the National Gallery?
The National Gallery is the closest and most available option. One has simply to select a period in art history and then lose oneself in it.
Is this what you do after each performance?
It is generally hard for me to stay in a company with people after the performance: to keep the decorum, I must engage in a conversation, spend my energy on communicating. Ideally, I spend my time processing and analysing the performance, and this takes up almost the whole day after the performance. I presume, it is probably the same for all people who have to focus on their work 100 per cent, and to invest lots of energy, emotions and time into it.
Today, I feel inclined to to think that if there is an inborn talent, given to one by God (I believe in it), one needs to maintain it properly, channel it in the right direction and towards beautiful things. And from this I derive the greatest pleasure. As I do not have my own family, children or husband now, I feel happiest when I can give something to people. Quite possibly that this can change at any moment. So while I am still so carried away by dancing, I must give myself fully to it.