Bolshoi-trained beauties bolster ballet in Orange County

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Ethereal Bolshoi Ballet star Natalia Osipova, arguably the world’s prima ballerina, slipped into a rehearsal studio at Orange County Performing Arts Center looking tired. Lightly grasping a ballet barre, she plunged suddenly to the floor, her torso descending like an express elevator, her legs separating into a startling split. In this grueling position, she nested contentedly.

The porcelain-skinned, raven-haired beauty recently received standing ovations and rose bouquets in both London and New York for her classical roles. On Friday, she rehearsed in Costa Mesa alongside five fellow Bolshoi Ballet Academy alumni, all top-caliber international ballerinas featured in the upcoming “Reflections” ballet spectacle.


Co-produced by the Bolshoi and OCPAC, “Reflections” premieres in Costa Mesa Jan. 20-23, and then repeats in Moscow Jan. 27-30. The vision of impresario Sergei Danilian (“Kings of the Dance,” “Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion”), the production follows his proven formula: Showcase classical ballet virtuosos in contemporary dance, with the accent on technique. “Reflections” packs particular sizzle because the dancers are spectacular, and because the choreography roster includes three strong female names at a time when a dearth of women in power positions – both management and creative – characterizes the ballet world.

The show’s in fast-track development. “Today is very difficult,” said Bolshoi star Yekaterina Shipulina bravely, her long blond pony tail mirroring her shapely legs. “Last night we work till 10.”

Gazing at the six dancers, OCPAC Executive Vice President Judith Morr said, “I’m in love with all of them.” But she indicated a favorite: the sinewy, muscular Polina Seminova, whose steely legs stem from Berlin Staatoper Ballet’s contemporary repertoire.


San Francisco Ballet principal Maria Kochetkova is the only member of the group who works full time for an American company. Also in the cast are four of the Bolshoi’s leading male dancers: Alexander Volchkov, Vyacheslav Lopatin, Denis Savin and Ivan Vasiliev.

In engaging choreographers, Danilian selected two practitioners of undiluted New York dance: Lucinda Childs, an admired veteran of the postmodern scene, and Karole Armitage, an idiosyncratic former Merce Cunningham dancer and new-wave groundbreaker.

The minimalism of the simple walking motif in Childs’ solo work, “Book of Harmony,” set to music of John Adams, got the rapt attention of dancers trained for pyrotechnics. But Childs expressed confidence in soloist Olga Malinovskaya of Ballet Estonia: “The dancers are magnificent,” Childs said. “They learn so fast. They adapt quickly.”


Armitage, using a Bartok string quartet as a springboard for Bolshoi dancer Yekaterina Krysanova’s extreme, off-kilter développés, noted: “It’s an enormous leap for the dancers. For some, it’s natural; for others, a challenge. They’re learning a new movement language. Let’s say they speak Russian; now they’re learning Thai.”

The creators also come from Europe. In his group work “CINQUE,” Mauro Bigonzetti of Aterballetto uses witty gestural vocabulary that plays off the five senses. The Vivaldi score is familiar. “I like big music,” said the spectacled Italian, who just choreographed to Prokofiev’s great “Romeo & Juliet” score. “I like to take the music not from the front, but from the back.”

Finnish-born Boston Ballet choreographer Jorma Elo, the Royal’s Wayne McGregor, Czech Jiri Bubenicek, and Canadian Aszure Barton all have commissions. Works by Nacho Duato, Johan Kobborg and George Balanchine complete the very full program.

Asked about her plans for sightseeing, Osipova, 24, who was mugged in New York City in June, said through a translator, “We have no time for Disneyland or Universal Studios. After my exhausting London season” with the Bolshoi, “I’m so happy to be peaceful.”

--Debra Levine


National Ballet of Cuba on OCPAC’s 2010-11 dance series


Top photo: Natalia Ospiova, Yekaterina Shipulina, Olga Malinovskaya, and Polina Semionova of the Bolshoi Ballet rehearse “Reflections.”

Bottom photo: Polina Semionova and Denis Savin.