What Makes David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova So Magical Together?
On the surface, intercontinental ballet stars David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova would seem to make unlikely partners. He's an American paragon of elegant princeliness; she's an explosive Russian powerhouse who seems to mock the laws of gravity.
But since they first danced together in 2009, they've moved audiences to tears as Romeo and Juliet, and sent chills through spines as Giselle and Albrecht. Whether at American Ballet Theatre, The Royal or the Bolshoi, each time they're together they bring out new depths in each other's artistry.
"It's a bit like an addiction: Whenever I get a hit of dancing with her, I want more," admits Hallberg. "She has such a powerful, driving engine, to keep up with the machine inside her, she makes me live in the moment. How she moves through space, the expansiveness of her physicality, I feed off of her intuition."
The dancers used to be only able to communicate with each other through movement. Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy Sadler's Wells
Yet until this season, no choreographer had ever created a new work on the pair. Enter Alexei Ratmansky. Arguably today's preeminent ballet choreographer, he not only has a reputation for bringing out the best in his muses, but he also has deep experience with both dancers. Hallberg originated a role in Ratmansky's first work for ABT (On the Dnieper) a decade ago and has worked with him several times since; Osipova was given her first major opportunities at the Bolshoi when Ratmansky was its ballet director and later originated the title character in his Firebird.
The trio had three weeks together in the studio last summer to create a seven-minute duet, Valse Triste. It's the centerpiece of an evening called Natalia Osipova's Pure Dance with David Hallberg, a Sadler's Wells co-production with New York City Center.
Although the work has no overt narrative, the dancers saw their personal relationship reflected in the characters: She at times runs across the stage tumultuously, while Hallberg provides a calming, comforting presence. "That's kind of our partnership and friendship in a nutshell," says Hallberg, with a laugh.
After debuting at Sadler's Wells last September, Valse Triste has its U.S. premiere at New York City Center April 3–6. The program also includes Hallberg and Osipova together in Antony Tudor's The Leaves Are Fading. Jason Kittelberger joins Osipova in Roy Assaf's Six Years Later, and Jonathan Goddard partners her in Flutter, a premiere by Iván Pérez.
When the pair first started working together a decade ago, Osipova spoke no English, and Hallberg spoke no Russian. But that inability to communicate through speech had a sublime effect: The dancers became hyperaware of how everything felt, relying solely on the energy between them to connect. And it electrified the air around them.
While their performances remain as thrilling as ever, Hallberg has picked up some Russian from his time with the Bolshoi and Osipova has gained a solid grasp of English while living in London. Where they used to go their separate ways after rehearsal, they're now dear friends. Dinner together can last for hours, then turn into a stroll that leads to a cup of coffee, more talking and walking, then maybe a glass of wine.
"What typically happens are these epic sort of evenings," says Hallberg. "Before you know it, seven hours have gone by."
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In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.