She is one of the most acclaimed dancers in the world, dazzling audiences with performances at the Bolshoi and the Royal Ballet. Now Natalia Osipova merges her age-old art form with the latest digital technology.
Osipova, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London and who recently appeared as Giselle at the Royal Opera House, has created the world’s first non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for the ballet which will be auctioned in the coming days.
The dancer said she was “excited but a little nervous” when she entered the world of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, but “I like to take risks and this is my last adventure”.
She added, “NFTs have turned the art world upside down, especially in the past year, and I realized they could also broaden the appeal and reach of ballet.”
NFTs are unique digital assets stored on a blockchain. An NFT can be copied, but there is only one original, and blockchain technology means that origin and ownership are definitively established. NFTs can be sold and traded between collectors.
Osipova has performed three pieces, two by Giselle and one by the contemporary duo Left behind, which she dances with her fiancé, Jason Kittelberger.
Giselle, she said, was “my favorite classic role, beautiful and amazing”. Left Behind featured more recent work combining “classical ballet training with fluid contemporary dance and emotional storytelling.”
Together, the pieces form Natalia Osipova: Triptych, which is auctioned by Bonhams by December 10.
The motive for creating the NFTs was born during the Covid lockdowns. “I felt completely lost when I wasn’t able to play,” Osipova said. She decided to explore ways to connect with audiences on a digital platform.
She and Kittelberger also plan to form their own dance company. “We hope to find some financial independence by selling NFTs to fund the business,” Kittelberger said. “We hope that [build a] bridge to crypto[currency] community because they are the ones who really invest.
NFTs also create lasting works of art. Dancers’ careers are “really short,” Osipova said. “You stop around 40, maybe 45, sometimes earlier. I’m 35 now, I can jump and my body looks good, and now is the time to record. Maybe in two years I won’t be able to do the same thing. It’s sad but it’s true. »
NFT sales have surged this year in what is often described as a new gold rush. Digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, made history in March by selling an NFT for $69.4 million. That same month, musician Grimes sold a collection of NFTs for nearly $6 million.
Nyan Cat, a pixelated flying feline that became a YouTube meme sensation, sold as an NFT for $531,000 in February.
Osipova began formal ballet training in Moscow at the age of nine and joined the Bolshoi at the age of 18. In 2011, she resigned from her position as principal dancer, saying she needed “artistic freedom” and new challenges. She joined the Royal Ballet as a principal dancer in 2013.
She said she hopes her NFTs will “pave the way for the next generation of dancers to connect with their fans on this digital stage.” Dance used to be “the best language in the world,” but the past two years have shown that “we need different platforms for people to see great art,” she said.
Osipova and Kittelberger said their business was a “bet” because the market for ballet NFTs was unknown. The two abbreviated Giselle NFTs are expected to sell for between £8,000-12,000 each, and the long NFT Left Behind is expected to fetch between £30,000-50,000.
Nima Sagharchi, head of digital art at Bonhams, said the auction house was “proud to be a pioneer in NFT – having sold designer digital art and a Cristiano trading card Ronaldo’s NFT record – and to deliver yet another world’s first.
“Through NFTs, we are able to crystallize unique performances, and own and collect what would otherwise be intangible.”