Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae in Giselle.  Photo Gene Schiavone

Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae in Giselle
Photo Gene Schiavone

Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY; May 28, 2015

Jerry Hochman

American Ballet Theatre has routinely welcomed guest artists – at least for 50 or more of its 75 years. So even though I’ve complained about ABT’s import of guest artists at the expense of nurturing and providing opportunities for its home-grown talent, and the need for a visiting ballerina is difficult to justify given the talent already on its roster, an exceptional guest artist now and then is understandable.

Just such a guest artist who is not inappropriate for a performance or two per season is The Royal Ballet’s Natalia Osipova, who has already danced on the Met stage many times and has a proven international reputation, and, more importantly, who can do extraordinary things. And with respect to male dancers, in large part because of problems of its own making, the need to import guests who already know a particularly leading role is more dire. So I looked forward to seeing Osipova’s return in Giselle, and my first opportunity to see Albrecht danced by Stephen McRae, also of The Royal Ballet. Neither disappointed.

But a much more significant development occurred at Thursday May 28’s performance. Osipova does not do anything in a less than spectacular fashion, and getting injured is no exception.

In the closing sequence of her concluding Act II solo, after she powered through a series of grand jetés and had just completed the final, most dramatic one, on landing, her foot appeared to either give way or unexpectedly contacted something or someone – she was far upstage, heading toward the stage right corner, and possibly misjudged where the corps dancers were stationed. Regardless, her legs were still far apart and she was flying at breakneck speed when she hit the floor, and hurtled into the stage floor, and into some corps dancers, like an ethereal bowling ball. The audience gasped. After a couple of seconds, she pulled herself up, and, stunned, moved to what, by then, was her appropriate position on stage. Her right food looked limp but, nevertheless, somehow, she was able to dance en pointe and complete the performance (there wasn’t much left), to the roars of the audience and applause from the dancers on stage.

But looking at her face as she took her bows, she appeared to be in shock.

Veronika Part as Myrta in Giselle.  Photo Gene Schiavone

Veronika Part as Myrta in Giselle
Photo Gene Schiavone

Osipova clearly did suffer an injury, either to her foot or her knee or both, since she has been replaced for her scheduled performances as Nikiya in La Bayadere this week. She is, however, still presently scheduled to dance Juliet on June 17.

But for that development, Thursday’s performance was only moderately spectacular. When I first saw Osipova dance Giselle, her Act I was astonishing. She soared higher and lighter than anyone I’d previously seen, like a petal of a flower borne by a breeze. At this performance, her elevation wasn’t quite as pronounced – although it may simply be that I’m more used to seeing it. In other respects, however, she delivered an extraordinary portrayal. But her Act II was every bit as fine as I’ve previously seen – and perhaps stronger. Osipova not only can look weightless, when the choreography allows she flies through the air like a rocket – not a ‘trick’, but phenomenal strength: I’d never seen her push so hard as I did just before she hit the floor – though perhaps that’s part of the reason she hit the floor.

I had not previously seen McRae, and my initial view was disappointing. Onstage, he looks relatively slight, with flaming orangey hair that looks artificial. And in an effort to appear noble, he thrust his chest out. This initial impression, however, didn’t last long. McRae’s acting throughout Act I was better than adequate, and provided a somewhat different take than others.  For example, when Giselle invites him to dance, it wasn’t just the ‘I don’t think I can do this’ or ‘I’m not good at this’, or ‘well, if you insist’; it was more like ‘me? You want me to dance too? I’m honored – and by the way I’m great at it’ – and then delivered choreographic combinations that were not only well done, but dramatically crystalline.

And those Act II solo entrechats, so wonderfully executed previously by Vladimir Shklyarov and Roberto Bolle, were even faster and cleaner and higher. It may be that this impression came from his being the last in the sequence, but I don’t think so. These are just examples – his performance overall, including his partnering of Osipova (and except for that thrust chest), was stellar. Even with orange hair.

Among the other featured roles, Roman Zhurbin provided the most complex characterization of Hilarion of those I saw, and in the pas de deux, Luciana Paris did a fine job (and it’s nice to see her getting additional role opportunities so far this season), and Blaine Hoven’s partnering was fine, but he had difficulty neatly landing his turns. Veronika Part delivered her usual excellent Myrta (which at this point is easy to take for granted), but particularly noteworthy was Katherine Williams’s ice cold and crystal clear Moyna. Zhong-Jing Fang’s Zulma was nicely done as well, but lacked the deep backward bends in her solo turns that are most frequently seen.

But unfortunately, the most unforgettable image from Thursday’s performance – aside from the horrific fall itself – was the shocked look on Osipova’s face when she took her position following the fall. She looked ghostly – more like a Wili than a dancer should ever look.