Osipova & Vasiliev: Beyond the Thrills

May 26, 2013

Natlalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev upped the ante on Don Q Saturday night, reaching a level of virtuosity that one might label superhuman. Her turns were ultra speedy and her balances breathtakingly long; his leaps brought him near the flies, with newfangled splitting of his legs midair. Together, they were simply thrilling.

It was an exciting night for American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera—in my experience the most buzzing since Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes’ fabulously passionate Romeo and Juliet. As noted in Alastair Macaulay’s New York Times review, the audience couldn’t keep quiet. There were audible gasps and blurted out remarks all the way through.

But, strangely, this duo, now famous on an international scale, is not particularly well matched. While she, in her sprightliness, acted the part so well that she seemed born to play Kitri, he seemed slightly distracted when he wasn’t partnering her speed-demon turns or planning another of his breathtaking leaps. (But he wasn’t nearly as out of place as he was in Symphony in C a few days earlier). The couple, dubbed #Vasipova on Twitter, did not train together: She was a gymnast before studying at the Bolshoi Academy; he was trained in Minsk. So they don’t have the seamless two-as-one consistency of, say, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, ABT’s recently retired star couple. But they were first paired as teenagers, chosen by Alexei Ratmansky when he was director of the Bolshoi.

Although I am impressed by Osipova’s endlessly light-hearted energy, I am moved by Vasiliev’s human fallibility. You can feel his effort, whereas technically, everything seems so easy for her. Marina Harss commented on his lack of refinement, but I feel that, hey, Basilio is a poor barber so he doesn’t have to be princely. I enjoyed his casual miming, for instance when indicating that he shaves faces for a living.

One thing that makes this partnership work, beyond the thrill of hard-earned virtuosity: He provides a rock-solid fouundation so that she can be as free as a butterfly.