(Costa Mesa, CA) July 25, 2014 –Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. These are a few examples of famous “dance couples” who possess a powerful type of stage and cinematic chemistry. It’s the ability where a pair of performers, whenever they are together, exhibit a rare type of artistic magic that makes their characters come alive in more. It’s the ability to be a “couple” in the artistic work without crossing that line into reality. When a pair of artists simply “click” with each other, the result is in a performance that impacts the viewer in many delightful ways.
At the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, concluding their dance season, a popular “stage” couple— Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev—are performing their modern dance triptych, “A Solo for Two,” from July 25- July 27. And the creative magic that both artists conjure is truly spellbinding. Ballet veterans Osipova and Vasiliev exude grace and passionate stage chemistry in this Orange County debut.
In the first act, titled “Mercy,” Vasiliev and Osipova are on a minimalist stage colored with black and lighting schemes of blues, greens, and reds. The man (Vasiliev) immediately begins “abusing” the woman (Osipova) through a series of punches, kicks, dragging, and other forms of physical violence. Of course, none of the actions make contact; it’s all symbolized through Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s powerful dance choreography and to the music of Heinrich Schutz and Hermann Schein. But the emotional impact—both felt by the artists and the viewers—is quite intense and there is a moment as to when this abuse is going to end. But then the tone of the act beautifully becomes subdued where the woman walks away, and the man performs a dance solo that is different from his previous incarnation, as though the benevolent soul of the man is trying to dance its way through the ugliness he has become. Osipova appears once again, and she “pulls” on Vasiliev as though he were a marionette, guiding his inner soul to come out and vanquish the violent person he was once before. And when Vasiliev’s man becomes in tune with Osipova’s woman, both are healed and move in the harmony of sympathetic mercy, giving the first glimpse of the perfect synchronicity between these two talented dancers.
The second act, “Passo,” is by far the most unusual of the three because the choreographer—Ohad Naharin—utilizes a dance technique called “Gaga,” which is an instinctive physical style of body awareness and movement. Set to the music of Auteche and English traditional folk music (“Greensleeves” being one of them), the story begins with the same minimalist set, but lit with a stark black and white color motif. Osipova’s woman moves and dances very slowly, as though she were a robot starting to warm up. Vasiliev’s man comes in, watching and then imitating the end poses of many of Osipova’s solo routines. But then, Vasiliev catches up with Osipova and he begins his own dance solos, whose choreography is somewhat odd to behold, such as mini jogs and dancing as though he were a duck. It is as though both were making attempts to somehow connect, but keep misfiring and missing their respective physical messages. But finally, an Irish dance begins and both man and woman are finally connected physically and emotionally. When both characters realize that the connection is made, their beaming smiles can be seen and felt to the back of the theatre. They dance a duet and another happy ending occurs. The choreography by Naharin is very quirky, but it displays a charm that is enhanced by the artists.
But in the finale, “Facada,” Arthur Pita creates a tale that starts off as a comedy, but ends like a Greek tragedy. At the end of the second intermission, a musician (a versatile Frank Moon) passionately plays a mandolin and then other instruments throughout the act. At the same time, a lady in black (a classy and frightening Gay Storm) disdainfully plays with a bridal bouquet while using the reflection of a sharp butcher knife to put on her lipstick. Both supporting players watch a joyous bride (Osipova) dance at the anticipation of being married. The groom (Vasiliev) comes in nervous and when both intertwine their arms, preparing to exchange vows, the groom screams and runs away. A comic moment, indeed. And more comedic actions occur hilariously on stage, perfectly showing the duos playfully comic side. But then the disheartened bride gets angry, becomes vengeful, almost provoked by the Lady in Black, who behaves as though she were the Goddess of Women Scorned. And the act journeys towards a dark and tragic tone—especially with the mercurial lighting and sets that smoothly transform from sunrises to fiery infernos to death-like tombs, resulting in a passionate death and mourning dance performed by Osipova that ends the trilogy with sublime intensity.
This premiere work, “Solo for Two,” is not only an ideal creation for this talented stage duo, it’s also a fantastic way for the Segerstrom Center to end its 2013/2014 Dance Season. All the shows and dance companies demonstrated an artistry that is worthy of this venue. And no doubt, the Segerstrom’s 2014/2015 season will continue to impress its audience in many diverse ways.
Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.
Check out these performances occurring during the 2014 Season
Ghost: The Musical: Segerstrom Hall---7/29-8/10/2014
ONCE: Segerstrom Hall---8/19-31/2014
Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts
600 Town Center Drive,
Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197
Photos by Elena Blednykh and Nikolay Krusser