Not everyone will like Solo for Two, but to see these two sublimely talented ex-Bolshoi dancers taking work like this on is at the very least exciting. No showboating or swans here, but up-to-the-minute choreography.

Their dancing, as demonstrated in the rehearsal of Facada by Portuguese, South African-born Arthur Pita, is extraordinary: that fusion one is always desperately hoping for, of dramatic ability, psychological sensitivity, and technical shimmer. There is even humour.


To live music based on the Portuguese Fado tradition, Natalia Osipova plays a bride who takes revenge on her hapless groom (Vasiliev) after he runs away in fear. It's her show, really – although Vasiliev has some stunning moments too. 

“I am a purely classical ballerina of the Russian school,” she tells me in a break between rehearsals, speaking Russian very fast, sitting on the floor of her dressing-room in her black leotard and white leg-warmers, hair up in a scruffy topknot, her features exquisitely small, her eyes quick and dark. 

“Dancing contemporary choreography is very tough for ballerinas. When you dance en pointe all the time and play the part of a swan or a lovely young girl, - this is completely different to that. You need to realign your muscles, your body, and become more real, more human, not a princess.” 

It was Osipova's idea to take on contemporary dance in Solo for Two, she says. “You get very tired of doing the same thing all the time and I wanted to do something completely different.” And different it is – not least because of the unfamiliar stresses this kind of dance puts on her body. 


“Your muscles work in a totally different way,” she says. “In ballet, the muscles on the inside part of your legs work,” she says, putting her hands on her inner thigh to show me, “but here you use the muscles on the outside of your legs. 

“There's a lot of pressure on the knees, which you don't get in classical ballet, and you dance practically barefoot, which is also unusual. Lots of falling movements - when we were rehearsing we were covered in bruises, all beaten and battered!” she says, half-laughing. But she makes sure to add that now the dancers are used to their new way of working, and so it's a lot easier. 

Why was she prepared to get so many bruises for the sake of new choreography? She could get away with doing almost anything on stage, with her talent and fame. 

“I've danced with Ivan here [in London] a lot, and people here know me in my classical roles very well,” she explains. “What's the point in showing the audience the same thing over and over again? 

“And that's not very interesting for us, either. It's dangerous, because if you dance the classics, audiences are always keen, but we wanted to risk seeing how audiences would react [to us dancing contemporary pieces].” 


The two other pieces Osipova and Vasiliev are dancing are also very modern: one work by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and another by Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company, to music by Manchester's electronic music duo, Autechre, with English traditional folk music. 

What does Osipova do in her spare time, the little that there is? What was the last book she read, for example? She is immediately enthusiastic: she tells me how much she enjoys reading, and that she's just finished a book of stories by the well-known Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya.

And she enjoys seeing plays in Moscow, too, but that's a rare thing nowadays as she's hardly there. Osipova has been living in London since autumn 2013, when she became a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet – a coup for them and a delight for ballet lovers. 

She lives near the Royal Opera House, in Covent Garden itself, and is very happy here, though she says - without self-pity - that it has taken her a year to get comfortable and make friends.

But she doesn't complain a bit about life in London, although as she admits, it is quite different from Moscow. The only thing she really misses, she says, are people: her parents and her friends back at home.

And then the call for her to come back on stage for more rehearsals comes over the tannoy, and she picks herself up from the floor in what seems to be a tenth of a second, before lightly darting out of the door of her dressing room and back through the corridors winding towards the stage. She is, as she describes the characters in contemporary dance, real, human, and not a princess. But star quality she has in spades.