Don Quixote – Bolshoi Ballet; ROH, 8 August 2010

Ivan Vasiliev & Natalia Osipova – the best in the world?

Vasiliev & Osipova - literally joined at the hip

Vasiliev & Osipova - so good they're literally joined at the hip

The Bolshoi are back. The legendary Russian troupe bounced into London for the summer of 2010 ready  to unleash their latest superstar on the capital in the horseflared shape of Ivan Vasiliev. Causing a sensation as the opening night’s Spartacus he continued to astound for the rest of the run. His, and the company’s, final performance was this incredible Don Quixote.

   Before we go into more detail about yer man a word first for Natalia Osipova, generally overlooked in the adoration being poured over her partner, but herself an absolutely stunning dancer. Feisty is not a strong enough word for her Kitri; when she span she drilled holes into the floor and when she flung herself into the air I swear she could have wrapped her trailing leg over her head and tickled her nose with her toes if she’d wanted. Her feet were a lightning blur but her command of body control was truly outstanding; she was just so exciting to watch.

   But the star of the show was still undoubtedly Mr Vasiliev. He’s a compact man with astonishing strength and a pair of thighs that stand like four ballerinas all squashed into a pair of tights. From where I was sitting I couldn’t see his first leap but I could hear it. It went something like this; thump, thump, thump, long pause, huge gasp from the audience, thump. From that moment he had the audience  eating out of his hand. A small tiff between himself and Osipova when he uncharacteristically nearly dropped her only fired them both up to new competitive heights of ‘anything you can do…’.

   Yes, his leaps are gigantic and landings impeccable, his bravura and technique mindblowing but for me the truly revelatory thing about his performance was this; he was actually enjoying himself. You could tell from his eyes, from the way they lit up as he span or nailed a landing, that he was loving it. I don’t recall ever seeing a male ballet dancer so actively enjoying himself on the stage. Normally they look kind of neutral, satisfied at best with their performance, as though it’s something they’re happy they can do but on the whole they’d rather be at home playing Singstar on their Wii. I hope he never loses this enthusiasm for his art.

   The ‘lesser’ dancers weren’t shabby either and had a circus-like flexibility that principles from many other companies could only dream of. In fact the only thing that seemed out of place was the insistence of sticking the story of deluded romantic Don Quixote in the way of the dancing. This was particularly disconcerting as the Don was a ringer for the England football player Peter Crouch and I kept expecting him to break out into the acclaimed ‘Robot Dance’ at any moment.

  Señor Quixote apart this was one one of the finest nights I’ve ever spent in a theatre. With pure spectacle, entertainment and breathtaking dance the Bolshoi finished their London tour in rude health with Vasiliev and Osipova in particular raising standards and expectations for when they next grace these shores. It was a privilege to have been there.

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