'The Pharaoh's Daughter'
August 2, 2006 matinee and evening -- Royal Opera House, London
Earlier this year I saw a wonderful young dancer who impressed me more than any I’d seen in years. She first bounded into my consciousness as the Spanish princess in “Swan Lake”, and later amazed me even more, with an immaculate rendition of the “Flames of Paris” pas de deux. Her name was Natalia Osipova and after seeing those tantalizing glimpses of her in supporting roles, I was hungry to see her take the lead in a full-length ballet. On Wednesday afternoon that hunger was satisfied when Ms. Osipova took the stage as Aspicia in “The Pharaoh’s Daughter”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was also her very first appearance in the role. Did she display nerves? Yes, she did: There was more than one minor mistake in the first act and a couple of small partnering errors too where her timing appeared slightly off. She has the habit of biting her lower lip during difficult passages, that telltale sign of a very young girl facing a theatrical challenge, though that childish little trait just made me warm to her more.
Osipova is gorgeous, a prima in the making if I’m not mistaken. Her technique is already near- impeccable and that miraculous jump of hers is allied to the cleanest of footwork. She has good line, pleasing musicality, natural épaulement and above all no mannerisms whatsoever. Her acting ability in this role was excellent for a first attempt and she was physically well matched to her slender partner, Dmitri Goudanov. Dark-haired and pretty, Osipova is shorter and a little more compact than most of her peers, indeed her proportions are of the sort best-suited to the art of classical ballet. Aspicia is a fairly demanding role for the ballerina and I saw no signs of flagging whatsoever, as Ms. Osipova looked as fresh at the ballet’s end as at the beginning: an astonishing debut.
As Taor, that exotic alter ego of a drugged archaeologist, Goudanov gave a performance to match that of his exquisite princess. This role has always suited him technically, but in the past he seemed just a little too reticent; too much the mild mannered academic and not quite the ardent lover from the colourful world of ancient Egypt. But this time around things were different. With his hair colour changed to blond and a more flattering hair style than I saw before, Mr. Goudanov now looks breathtakingly handsome and has honed his acting skills to give an extra edge to his performance. He always dances like a dream; few dancers anywhere have such clarity of line allied with such perfect control. His feet are so beautiful that I could write a poem to them. I watched him from the front of the stalls and could hear spontaneous applause from clusters of his colleagues watching him from the wings, every bit as impressed as I was. His partnering of Osipova wasn’t exactly faultless; he was after all partnering a debutante, but no serious mistakes occurred. These two look wonderful together though and I can see them making an outstanding partnership, given time.
At the evening performance, Maria Alexandrova and Sergei Filin took the leads. Alexandrova has made this role her own and catches every nuance of the part, from her entrance as pampered princess, to her final scene as a woman transformed by love. She actually manages to give this candyfloss ballet a semblance of sense, as she experiences love, defiance, flight, fear and finally fulfillment in the very slight story of a princess compelled to defy her all-powerful father in order to achieve a future with the man she loves. Filin danced the premiere of this ballet and the fast footwork, so fundamentally different from Russian choreography, provokes no fear in him. His partnering was exemplary, so much so that he received a round of applause for one of his lifts in the last act. The Bolshoi is truly privileged to have such exceptional male dancers such as Filin and Goudanov among its ranks.
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