Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova has handpicked three choreographers to create new works – works that will push her to the limits of her physical and mental abilities.

“Remarkable”, “Incredible” and “Stunning” – when it comes to Natalia Osipova, choreographers don’t hold back on their praise. The men behind these quotes – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita – were all handpicked by the Russian ballerina to create new works for her show at the International Festival, Natalia Osipova and Guests, and with good reason.

All three choreographers are well versed in creating works for classically trained dancers, with their ballets regularly performed at the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells. A current Principal with the Royal Ballet, having danced with the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theatre previously, Osipova is renowned for her strong technique and dramatic interpretation – something Cherkaoui, Maliphant and Pita were keen to tap into.

“Natalia has incredible skill and an incredible body – but most of all she has an incredible mind,” says Cherkaoui. “Her technique has been acquired through years of training, but that’s also mixed with something very organic, because she’s a natural mover, too. And usually it’s one or the other – some dancers are extremely good at being copycats, others naturally bring out something personal. But Natalia has both – her physical flexibility is also a reflection of her mental flexibility.”

Cherkaoui’s work for Osipova is a trio inspired by the human need for emotional connectedness, especially in times of difficulty. She is joined by male dancers Jason Kittelberger and James O’Hara for the work, and rehearsing without all three in the room was an impossibility. “All of them had to be there, because in the piece they never stop touching,” explains the choreographer. “There is constant physical touch – the three dancers are like one entity, inter-dependent.”

For Maliphant, it was Osipova’s ability to use her classical technique in a contemporary way that impressed him. “Natalia has excellent strength, articulation and precision, so that’s already a great start,” he says. “But, more than that, she has the capability to be very classical and very modern at the same time. She’s openminded to new vocabularies, and already has familiarity with techniques that are very different to the ones usually employed in classical training – and I find that very exciting.”

In Maliphant’s duet, Osipova will dance with Ukrainian ballet star (and real-life partner) Sergei Polunin – also known for his masterful technique.

“I hope the piece will show the remarkable artistry of Natalia and Sergei in a new light,” says Maliphant, “and allow audiences to see the incredible classical technique of these two remarkable dancers in a new way.”

Osipova’s first foray into contemporary dance took place in 2014, when she performed at the London Coliseum in works by Cherkaoui and Pita – both of whom were more than happy to be asked back.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” says Pita, “because I loved working with her the last time. I’m a fan – I love what she does and how she does it. First of all, it’s her body and what she can do technically. But she also has this very special mix of vulnerability and immense strength, and she can switch from one to the other so well. It is all in her DNA.” Pita’s piece, Run Mary Run (also a duet with Polunin), is inspired by the ‘death discs’ of 1960s girl group The Shangri-Las, songs in which teenage girls hook up with bad boys who die in tragic circumstances. The piece starts with Polunin’s character dying, and works backwards to what Pita calls the “love at first sight” moment.

Both Osipova and Polunin have been praised for their ability to inhabit a role, and it was this Pita wanted to exploit even more than their technique. “I tried not to be seduced by the fact that Natalia can lift her legs really high, because ultimately you want the choreography to serve the dance,” he says.

“She can look equally beautiful doing something with low legs, no jumping and hardly any turns – she’ll still make it stunning. Just because you know the technique is there doesn’t mean you always have to use it.

“And because she also has this amazing artistic talent, I really wanted to provide the movement and scenario in which she could feel free to act and interpret – so that the audience can enjoy everything she does; it’s not just somebody coming on stage and being a one-trick pony.”

Words: Kelly Apter

Picture: Tristram Kenton

Natalia Osipova and Guests Festival Theatre, 12–14 August, 7.30pm

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