You never quite know what's going to happen when Natalia Osipova steps onstage—you know you're in for something extraordinary, but the exact nature of what you'll get is a mystery until it's happening. It's only fitting, then, that we would learn of Force of Nature, a new documentary following a year of the ballet superstar's career, a day before its limited release in the UK.
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.
We might have gotten a little bit carried away with this year's "Season Preview"—but with the 2018–19 season packing so many buzzy shows, how could we not? Here are over two dozen tours, premieres and revivals that have us drooling.
Summer's end is in sight, and while it might seem like everyone is on layoff (or at Jacob's Pillow or Vail), there's still plenty of dance to see before the fall season starts in earnest. Here are our top five performance picks for August.
There's got to be something about May 18—maybe the Ballet Gods celebrate some forgotten holiday that causes them to be particularly generous. Because how else do you explain that no less than three international ballet stars all share a birthday on, you guessed it, May 18?
Maybe today should be a ballet holiday in their honor, but, regardless, we're celebrating with clips from some of their signature roles:
New York City Center just announced programming for the 2018-19 season, and we're frantically marking our calendars for all the must-see dance. This year is the venue's 75th anniversary, and they're pulling out all the stops—from the reliable fan favorite Fall for Dance to the most epic Balanchine celebration and more:
Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin broke the ballet internet in November when they confirmed their relationship to the press. She, one of ballet's most explosive performers, and he, its high-profile bad boy, declared their offstage partnership, and juicily alleged that directors were trying to stifle their creative one. But what perhaps made it even more gossip-worthy was the fact that before Polunin, Osipova had another very public relationship—and very public breakup—with Ivan Vasiliev.
Dancers dating dancers isn't uncommon. Some will even date multiple co-workers over their career. Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute guesses that out of his company's 40 members, about one-third are romantically involved with each other. Dancers get together for some obvious reasons: It can be difficult to meet other people, they have a mutual devotion to their work, they're together all the time, and the physical act of partnering (in leotards and tights, no less) is a natural gateway to flirtation.
But for every happily-ever-after there are just as many examples of love stories gone sour. What happens when you're dealing with a real-life drama with a former significant other, and then have to dance an imagined one with them onstage?
Ballet Idaho's Megan Hearn says she will think twice before dating another co-worker. Photo by Mike Reid, courtesy Ballet Idaho.
Unlike some jobs, most dance companies don't have policies about dating, Sklute's Ballet West included. He believes his dancers' personal lives are exactly that, as long as their working relationships remain professional. Most of the time, they do. “Some are so professional you would never know they're dating. Some have such a great connection that having them partner can be a wonderful, positive thing," he says. But, “sometimes it's like oil and water. You can feel their energy for the negative."
Yet no matter how much you may come to loathe an ex, seeing them is an unavoidable part of your paycheck. “You're in class together, you're rehearsing together, you used to room together on tour and now you don't," says Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Kevin Shannon, who had a two-year relationship with Jonathan Fredrickson, who danced with the company at the time. Standing in the studio with an ex right after the split can be exhausting. “It's challenging. You feel drained. Dancers are emotional people; we're artists. And that can create volatility. It took so much energy to stay calm and focused at work."
A lot of that energy goes towards keeping your composure, and showing the former significant other that you're doing just fine. “There's a certain amount of ego involved," says Charlotte Ballet's Alessandra Ball James, who has dated two fellow company dancers. “You want to come in looking good and dancing good. And it's hard to keep your emotions in check because you're already physically exhausted from dancing." There's also jealousy. It bubbles up during what used to be everyday moments, like how well the other is dancing in class, the praise they're getting or casting. “We were doing Mats Ek's Casi-Casa and he got the lead role," says Shannon. “I was excited for him, but at the same, here he is doing this role I wish I could have done."
Then, there's the added pressure of gossip among co-workers and shared friends, which James counts among the most terrible parts of breaking up with a colleague. People may show loyalties to one person and pick sides. “There was a breakup that actually pulled dancers into different camps," says Sklute of a particularly difficult experience. “I had to bring in our HR department to have a conversation with the dancers about keeping their issues out of the studio."
Dancers who used to date may try to put as much physical distance between each other in the studio as possible. But eventually, the job will force them to interact, or even partner. “As the director is partnering people off in rep, he's getting to the end of the list and you realize, Oh no!" says James, who admits the awkwardness can become paralyzing enough to get in the way of the work. “It's easy to be quick to say what they're doing wrong—you want to get your little jab in. Or sometimes it's the opposite: You don't want to say anything because you just want to get through it. But in the end, maybe it's good. You are forced to dance together and forced to just move forward."
Shannon says it took about a year for interactions to feel completely relaxed between him and Fredrickson at work. Then, Fredrickson started dating another dancer in the company. “You think you're over it, and then you see him with someone else," says Shannon. In James' case, she was the one to move on to another dancer. “It was very awkward starting the second relationship," she says. “You have to find a good balance of being happy and sensitive to the situation."
Alessandra Ball James says gossip makes at-work breakups difficult. Photo by Peter Zay, courtesy Charlotte Ballet.
So is there a best way to break up with a co-worker? It's different for everyone, says Ballet Idaho's Megan Hearn, who dated fellow company dancer Daniel Ojeda for a few months. “Looking back, we should have had a discussion about how we would deal with each other in the studio" if forced to interact or partner. “But really, we just kind of figured it out as we went along."
The top priority is not letting heartbreak come between you and your dancing. “When it comes to personal things, I try to keep the directors out," says James. “I also don't want to mess with someone else's position in the company. But if a director asked me, I would let them know about the situation." Sklute confirms: “I've had people tell me they'd rather not dance with someone. I don't have a problem with them telling me, but I tell them that I can't make any promises."
Her experience dating Ojeda has made Hearn think she wouldn't mix romance and work again. “Dating someone in the company, you don't get any personal time. I needed more of my own space," she says. But if you do find yourself in a relationship with your colleague, and then suddenly out of one, take James' advice, served with both sarcasm and sincerity: “Summer layoff is the prime time to break up."
Kristin Schwab is Dance Magazine's associate editor.
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Photo by Stas Levshin, Courtesy Sergei Danilian
From Moscow to Milan to New York, international guest star Ivan Vasiliev is always on the move. In addition to being a principal with the Mikhailovsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, he remains a principal guest artist with the Bolshoi Ballet. This summer, he will reunite with former fiancée Natalia Osipova for their new duet project, Solo for Two, which premieres at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, July 25–27. On the program is Roland Petit’s sultry Carmen and new works by sought-after choreographers Ohad Naharin and Arthur Pita.
How did this program come together?
I worked with Roland Petit on L’Arlésienne and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort before he died, and I have huge respect for him. I think he is a genius—one of the best choreographers in the world. We once talked about Carmen as another ballet of his I might be able to dance, and he said, “Of course you can do it. You can dance everything.” We are learning it with Luigi Bonino, who was Petit’s assistant, and José Manuel Carreño is letting us use the corps of his Ballet San Jose.
We went to Israel to start the creation with Ohad and will work with both him and Arthur in California before the premiere. We’ll have to see what we can do together. You never know if it will be good, but I love to try something new.
How has it been working with Natalia Osipova since you broke up?
There is no problem, no tension. It’s just life. We’ll see if we keep working together after this project.
You also perform with Kings of the Dance, which has been called narcissistic in the press.
I don’t understand it. It’s not for one man, it’s for a group. One dancer alone could do nothing in this project. We’re a team—like The Avengers!
I hear you’re releasing a volume of poetry. When do you find time to write?
I have a lot of time to write because I have long flights! My main inspiration is Russian poet Sergei Yesenin. We don’t have a title for the book yet, and I write only in Russian. Maybe next year I’ll try in English.
Above: Osipova and Vasiliev in rehearsal. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, Courtesy Pointe.
Do you still work with your Bolshoi coach, Yuri Vladimirov?
Yes. It was difficult to leave him. I was like a child when I joined the Bolshoi, and he taught me what life in the theater means. He’s like my ballet father, and whenever I come back to Russia I rehearse with him.
In Solo for Two, do you ever miss being part of a company, with a corps around you?
No. You can always dance La Bayadère or Don Quixote, but with these projects we’re creating something new, something different. If we need a corps de ballet, we can find a corps de ballet.