Her wedding may have been postponed because of the pandemic, her busy performance schedule wiped clean. But Russian-born superstar ballerina Natalia Osipova, a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet since 2013, is now getting ready to return to the stage after a seven-month hiatus.
She will be part of the company's celebration performance, The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage, featuring more than 70 dancers of the company plus the orchestra. It will take place on October 9 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, broadcast live on-demand and available to view online for 30 days. The star-studded cast will also include Matthew Ball, Federico Bonelli, Sarah Lamb, Vadim Muntagirov, Marianela Nuñez and Edward Watson, among others, performing live in front of a socially distanced audience.
We recently spoke with Osipova about tomorrow night's performance, her life during the quarantine, her recent projects and future plans.
How does it feel to be back in the studio?
In the beginning it felt strange to enter the theater through a special entrance and not to be able to use dressing rooms, to wear masks and keep social distance from your friends and colleagues. But now, with nearly two months into rehearsals, it all seems normal. It's so wonderful to be back in the studio, to be able to move and jump and to feel the energy and the space.
Tell us about your performance in The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage program.
It's a solo from the ballet Medusa, which was created by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and premiered by The Royal Ballet in 2019. This ballet is based on Greek mythology, and my character is a beautiful priestess, Medusa, unjustly punished by the goddess Athena, who turns her into a monster. The choreographic style of Cherkaoui, with its flowing movements, expressive arm gestures and plasticity, is amazing; and it emphasizes the mythological nature of the story.
How was the quarantine for you?
At first I actually felt quite good. For the last 15 years, I had a very busy schedule and there was never enough time to rest. And with the pandemic, everything suddenly stopped. So for the first month, I enjoyed sleeping in and relaxing. I bought a house with my fiancé (American contemporary dancer Jason Kittelberger) and we spent our time renovating, painting the walls and working in the garden. We have four dogs and I was very happy that I could spend more time with them.
But by the second month of the quarantine, I started to feel restless. The most difficult part was to realize that I was no longer free to go wherever I want. I am a very spontaneous person and we always come up with some spur-of-the-moment plans, like visiting friends or traveling on weekends to a different city or a country. The feeling of sameness, when every day felt like a "groundhog day," was very hard for me.
Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in "Six Years Later"
Johan Persson, Courtesy Royal Opera House
How did the pandemic affect your plans?
There were many performances that didn't take place because of the pandemic, including my debut in the role of Siren in George Balanchine's Prodigal Son and my own programs in South Korea and Japan. David Hallberg and I were scheduled to perform in Swan Lake with The Royal Ballet in March; and in Romeo and Juliet and Giselle with American Ballet Theatre in June. But now I am happy to be in the theater, rehearsing and getting ready for the performance. In a few days I am flying to Novosibirsk, Russia, where I will be dancing in Don Quixote and Giselle. It's a great opportunity to be able to dance in full-length ballets these days and maintain my form.
You danced the role of Tatiana in The Royal Ballet’s revival of Onegin in January. What is special about this role for you?
Tatiana is one of my favorite roles. I have known and loved Pushkin's poem since my childhood. I understand absolutely everything, every little detail, about Tatiana. I feel like I know her as well as myself.
You performed in a dance film, "In Her Hands," which was part of the Summer Shorts festival on Marquee TV in August. What was it like?
It was an interesting project, inspired by the relationship of French sculptor Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, where I was able to work not only as a dancer but also as an actress; and I really enjoyed the acting component of it. A beautiful duet, which I am dancing with Matthew Ball, lies at the heart of this dance film. It was choreographed by Valentino Zucchetti, a dancer with The Royal Ballet who is also a wonderful choreographer.
Osipova on the set of "In Her Hands"
Julie Dene, Courtesy Royal Opera House
You are a classically trained ballerina. What attracts you in contemporary dance?
Unlike classical ballet, where every movement is carefully learned and rehearsed, with very little room for improvisation, in contemporary dance, every touch, every gesture is natural. When we embrace onstage, it feels and looks like a real embrace: It's an embrace between a real woman and a real man.
You so warmly describe your relationship with David Hallberg. What makes your partnership with him special?
We are two fundamentally opposite types of dancers, but David gave me some of my happiest moments onstage. He helped to awaken in me the feelings of femininity and love. I feel like he is part of my family, "my blood type," one of the closest people in my life. I always have him on my mind. Unfortunately, for various reasons, we didn't have as many opportunities to dance together in the past as we would have liked, but I still believe that we will be able to dance together, even if I am in London and he is artistic director of The Australian Ballet.
Do you think about forming your own dance company?
It's definitely my dream. I have always wanted to have a small experimental troupe, with maybe 20 dancers, who are versatile in neoclassical and contemporary styles. At this point I don't know when and where it's going to happen, but it's my ultimate goal.
What did you learn about yourself during the quarantine period?
On a personal level, I made a simple conclusion that there is nothing more important in life than having a close circle of family and friends who love you and care about you and staying connected with them during these times and knowing that they are healthy. And as a dancer, I realized that dance is a necessity in my life–something that I cannot live without.