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Art World Sees World First With Ballet NFTs

Auction house Bonhams sells three digital pieces by Natalia Osipova

December 24, 2021 / 09:16 PM IST
Russian dancer Natalia Osipova is a Principal of The Royal Ballet.

Russian dancer Natalia Osipova is a Principal of The Royal Ballet.

Bonhams, a privately-owned international auction house, recently sold the world’s first non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for ballet, which were performed by world-famous ballerina Natalia Osipova, the principal dancer at The Royal Ballet in London.

Bonhams has ventured into big-name auctions for the NFT field – having sold works by creators of digital art that included a record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo NFT trading card.

NFTs have been having a coming of age with collectors and speculators alike who have spent hundreds of millions some have spent more than $200 million on an array of NFT-based artwork, in recent times. In some senses, the tipping point came when digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, sold an NFT piece for a record-setting $69 million at auction house Christie's, the third-highest price ever fetched by any currently living artist.

NFTs are best described as digital computer files embedded with a provenance that serves as authenticity. Like cryptocurrencies, they exist on a blockchain which is a secure digital public ledger.

The sale of the NFTs will mark the first time that collectors and ballet admirers can own a piece of performance art, with the NFT format acting as a proprietary stamp attached to the digital works, according to Bonhams officials.

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How will the ballet NFTs work?

Buyers will be granted full licence of the works, which means that they completely own the video, having the capacity to use or display it as they wish. As it has done for traditional art, blockchain technology is set to propel the world of dance into a new age of digital performance and ownership. What led Osipova, who is a performer in a traditional art form, to lend herself to a new-age format of collectibles?

Natalia Osipova, the Russian ballerina was born in Moscow and began dancing at the age of five. Aged eight she joined the Mikhail Lavrosky Ballet School. From 1995 to 2004 she trained at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography and on graduating entered the corps of the Bolshoi Ballet, where she was promoted to principal in 2010.

Osipova had executed three pieces, two from the classic ballet Giselle and one from the contemporary duet Left behind,

All three pieces sold for roughly 60,000 pounds.

Osipova graduated from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography and her embodiment of Giselle has been described by critics as the most “definitive and celebrated interpretation of the role” in her generation. Her rendition of it on Youtube has attracted 8.5 million views.

Osipova said she decided to launch this NFT collection for several reasons. “Firstly, I have been thinking for some time about starting my own dance company but launching my own dance company requires fundraising, and my friends Natasha Tsukanova, an investment banker, and Igor Tsukanov, an art collector, asked whether I had thought about NFTs,” she said.

“After giving it some thought, I realized that NFTs are a ground-breaking way of connecting both established and young visual artists with their audiences on a new digital platform - I want global audiences, including tech-savvy art collectors, to appreciate dance in a way that has not been possible before Covid also increased my desire to connect better with audiences over a digital platform, as I felt so lost when I couldn’t perform.”

Osipova said the world of crypto and NFT was entirely new to her. “But I like taking risks and was very excited about the project despite the fact that it was neither simple nor straightforward.”  For example, ‘minting” a seven-minute-long video that would be collectible for posterity was entirely different from, say, minting the image of a print.  How do you convey dance which is art into a piece of digital art was the challenge, she added.

Ballet is well known as among the most competitive art forms that exists, so has the occasion led to a flurry of interest from other dancers in the field. Osipova says that it's still not fully understood but there are individuals who are looking into the area.

“It is also an opportunity that can capture that very rare performance which has been executed by an artist and which sometimes only happens once in a lifetime,” said choreographer and performer Jason Kittelberger.
Pavan Lall is a senior journalist based in Mumbai.
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