Dance review: The Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum


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The Independent Culture

Even before she becomes a ghost, Natalia Osipova’s Giselle defies gravity. Running out from her rustic cottage, she hangs in the air with each glowing, skipping step. Osipova and her partner Ivan Vasiliev, two of the world’s most exciting dancers, headline a busy London season by the Mikhailovsky Ballet, a St Petersburg company whose international profile has soared in recent years.

When Vladimir Kekhman, a Russian fruit magnate, took over the theatre, he brought in talent on a lavish scale, with leading Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato as artistic director and high-profile dancers. Vasiliev and Osipova caused a flurry of headlines when they left Russia’s flagship Bolshoi Ballet for the smaller Mikhailovsky.

Though this is now their home company, Vasiliev and Osipova still look like guest stars, their dancing grand and expansive against the softer approach of the Mikhailovsky. They’re extraordinary, but it takes them longer to build excitement.

In fact, Osipova has toned down the radical Giselle she danced with the Bolshoi. Her betrayed village girl has fragile health, but is no longer racked by illness. She’s more outgoing, ready to tease her mother, though still shy with Vasiliev’s Albrecht. In her mad scene, a touch of sanity returns: she gives her mother a look of sympathy before her feelings overwhelm her again.

Vasiliev isn’t obvious casting as Albrecht. His sturdy thighs give him a glorious jump, but he doesn’t have long, elegant lines. He makes up for it with power, charisma and conviction, in dancing and in partnering. He has fine character moments, too: this nobleman is obviously proud of his peasant disguise, smoothing down his jerkin. He’s appalled by discovery, his shoulders frozen even as he tries to laugh it off.

In the second act, Osipova dances with ghostly chill, her limbs floating into long, long phrases. Her bounding jump becomes even airier; when she changes direction, she looks like a leaf suddenly caught by the wind. Yet there’s a manic edge to her speedy solos and gleaming footwork: this is a spirit driven by supernatural forces.

Nikita Dolgushin’s staging is straightforwardly pretty, with minimal mime and some hyperactive stage effects: the haunted forest will not keep still. The corps de ballet are brisk as peasants, with light, smooth dancing as the ghostly wilis of the second act. Ekaterina Borchenko is a long-limbed, ethereal Queen of the Wilis.

Until 29 March. Mikhailovsky season continues until 7 April. Box office 020 7845 9300