Ballet stars Natalia Osipova & Ivan Vasiliev quit the Bolshoi

Natalia Osipova & Ivan Vasiliev quit the Bolshoi

Ivan Vasiliev with Jia Zhang

Ivan Vasiliev with English National Ballet's Jia Zhang in Jeune Homme Photograph : Laurent Liotardo

There has been much wailing and nashing of teeth since Bolshoi Ballet dancers Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev announced that they are leaving their newly refurbished theatre for new creative challenges at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg. I’ve read the words ‘earth-shattering’ and ‘defection.’ Why ?

Well, for starters the move appears to have caught the Bolshoi on the hop.  Both the Artistic Director Sergei Filin and the General Director Anatoly Iksanov have been quoted as questioning the motivation behind the move, and Filin has reportedly offered more money to the pair if they’ll stay. Both instances suggest that the Bolshoi management may have little understanding of the need to grow as an artist; in a vast ballet company of some 200 dancers perhaps they just can’t. The press release issued by the Mikhailovsky Theatre (below) reiterates that both Osipova and Vasiliev are looking for new creative opportunities. By all accounts this move has been in the making for 18 months.

Osipova is 25, Vasiliev 22.  A ballet dancer’s career can be over between the ages of 30-40 depending on repertoire/fitness, and so it’s refreshing to see this drive for new work in dancers who have performed in Don Quixote, Giselle, Spartacus etc but who have so much more to give, right now, in their prime. This pair can deliver all the tricks and fireworks and add embellishments on top if you want them, creating higher grande jetes and faster pirouettes. That they have seen there is more to ballet than the show-stopping show-pony tricks is to their credit.

They are not defecting! Both dancers could have settled into life in Moscow, with around three performances a month, having waited a long time even for them. Osipova’s coach, Marina Kondratyeva,  is on record as saying that the Bolshoi hasn’t given Osipova enough opportunities to dance, and that she wants to tour and to guest around the world. They have a worldwide fan base and guested in London in July in Frederick Ashton’s version of Romeo & Juliet. Vasiliev also guested with English National Ballet in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (from where these photos were taken by Laurent Liotardo) as his personal tribute to Roland Petit who died shortly before the performance. Vasiliev was one of the last dancers to work with Roland Petit on Jeune Homme in Russia. Wayne Eagling, Artistic Director of English National Ballet said, “After working with Ivan Vasiliev, Roland Petit told me of his respect for him as a dancer, so to have Ivan come on board for our season is very special, and an important tribute to this great choreographer.”

In 2007, under the Artistic direction of Alexei Ratmansky, succcessful British choreographer and ex-Royal Ballet dancer Christopher Wheeldon was invited to create a new ballet, Elsinore, based loosely on Hamlet, on the Bolshoi company.  It almost proved his un-doing and the results have been documented by The Ballet Boyz for Channel 4 documentary; suffice to say that it proved a steep learning curve : the experience was a stressful and unhappy one on all sides – the dancers were not used to being asked to collaborate with a choreographer (they are used to being given the steps and learn them) and Wheeldon was unused to the dancer’s responses to his work (mostly blank faces). In this environment, though it changed again under new artisitic direction with Filin, it’s all the more astonishing that Osipova and Vasiliev have decided enough is enough and resigned together.

Osipova has recently danced with David Hallberg, who left his company American Ballet Theatre to become the first American Principal dancer to join the Bolshoi (he still guests with ABT). It has been said that part of his motivation for moving to Russia was to develop his dance partnership with Osipova. The pair will still dance together at ABT as guests but whether Osipova and Vasiliev will be allowed to guest at the Bolshoi is, at this moment in time, up in the air and very much in doubt.

Ivan Vasiliev

Ivan Vasiliev Photography : Laurent Liotardo

Mikhailovsky Director Nacho Duato (who accepted the post in January) is a Spanish contemporary choreographer who will make a new work on Osipova and Vasiliev, which will premiere in March 2012. Osipova and Vasiliev will begin their new contract on 1st December 2011, during the closing ceremony for the Mikhailovsky Theatre Grand Prix.

When the Mikhailovsky Ballet toured to London in July 2010 with Swan Lake, they brought with them a production so refreshingly different that The Royal Ballet’s Tamara Rojo was persuaded to guest with them.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre has released this press release (shortened, translated version below)

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev to Join the Mikhailovsky Theatre

Ballet stars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev have decided to move to the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The renowned ballet dancers have appeared at the Mikhailovsky Theatre many times as guest performers; they will be joining the theatre’s company from 01 December 2011. Natalia Osipova will take the position of prima ballerina, and Ivan Vasiliev that of principal dancer of the Mikhailovsky Theatre

Speaking about her move, Natalia Osipova commented,“Given my roots in Moscow, the decision to move to the Mikhailovsky was a very serious step for me. The main reason behind my decision to leave the Bolshoi Theatre was the lack of repertoire – I have danced everything I could possibly dance there. We have come for artistic freedom. My life had become too comfortable, and I feel a strong compulsion to change it somehow, to free myself from this fixed course, which had become rather too relaxed”.

Ivan Vasiliev said, “We are developing, we want to move forward, and at the Bolshoi Theatre it is very difficult to break out of the mould that we once created for ourselves. We do not want to be confined to two or three so-called ‘great roles’, but want to dance as many different parts as possible, especially new choreography. It is not the size of the stage that is important for dancers, but what can be performed on that stage and how it is achieved”.

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev have signed a five-year contract.

Their first performance as Mikhailovsky Theatre soloists will be on 01 December, at the closing concert of the Mikhailovsky Theatre Grand Prix. 

Osipova & Vasiliev

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to Ballet stars Natalia Osipova & Ivan Vasiliev quit the Bolshoi

  1. J November 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    wow that’s quite some news!
    I thought it was absolutly brilliant what Vasiliev said:”It is not the size of the stage that is important for dancers, but what can be performed on that stage and how it is achieved”.
    This is obviously quite a lost for the Bolshoi out of a sudden they lost not one but two of the most amazing young ballet superstars out there.
    As for the Mikhailovsky, it’s very refreshing to start hearing more and more about this company that’s starting to create a new place and joining at the top both Mariinsky and Bolshoi ballet.
    So Mikhailovsky not only has now Osipova and Vasiliev but also has one of my favourite ballet dancer that recently joined them the young ex-Mariinsky superstar Leonid Sarafanov.
    So watch out Mariinsky and Bolshoi !

  2. May November 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Thanks for the great scoop and info, Ballet News. I guess it was inevitable that Natalia and Ivan would break free and try life with other companies – but one would expect the usual route that dancers like Ananiashvili, Zakharova, etc have followed, with frequent guest spots worldwide but still a base with the Moscow troupe. Still, in the fast moving world of the arts today – who knows? They may rejoin the Bolshoi like Farrell did after leaving NYCB, or move around to yet another company. As long as they continue working, tons of companies will be eager to have them.

    Sarafanov has indeed already joined the principal roster of the Mikhailovsky – intriguing! Looks like the Western press will have to get used to spelling the name, lol….. The company already has an illustrious history with both opera as well as ballet – Oleg Vinogradov used to direct it and stage his works there before he became director of the Kirov/Mariinsky. It will be really, really exciting to see what Duato and his new group of dancers (and the existing dancers) can come up with. Lots of tours please!