Classical ballerina Natalia Osipova is regarded as a dance-world superstar known and noted for her masterful technique, vivid characterisations and electrifying energy.

The triple bill Osipova brings to Auckland includes work inspired by her abilities and physicality made by choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Arthur Pita and Russell Maliphant. So, what's it like to be a choreographer handpicked to create work for her and, rather than an entire company of dancers, one or two of her closest colleagues?

Call New York and speak to Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and you can almost hear him give a wry smile and small shrug of his shoulders as he talks about the challenge.

He may try to be laid back about it but it's clear the artistic director of The Royal Ballet Flanders relished the chance to extend Osipova's range. Describing her as an incredibly powerful, flexible and dramatic dancer, Cherkaoui wanted to harness this energy but introduce an element of softness - vulnerability, if you like - to it.


"I was always interested in finding ways to create a universe she had yet to explore and to add to her repertoire."

The result is Qutb where Osipova, a principal dancer with the UK's Royal Ballet, is joined by contemporary dancers Jason Kittelberger and James O'Hara. Cherkaoui wanted to ensure it was markedly different to anything choreographers Pita and Maliphant would create.

He places the trio in an otherworldly environment - he describes it as a desert - where they're fighting for survival; where the fusion of bodies reflects the need to be connected to become more resilient and survive.

"It's the idea that you might not know where you are but you have to keep walking."

And, yes, he adds, it could well be a metaphor for current times. That's something the award-winning choreographer's long explored, although he may feel it's more urgent now. In 2013, Babel, which revolved around his fascination with language as a force to unite and divide, was a hit at that year's Auckland Arts Festival.

Meanwhile, Pita's Run Mary Run unites Osipova with real-life partner Sergei Polunin. Pita says no matter what you decide to do as a choreographer/director, it will always be a challenge.

"It happens in stages: first you dream up the idea and imagine in your head how it looks and feels, then there is a harsh reality in the rehearsal room of making it come to life, then somehow it eventually morphs into something that you imagined from the start.

"Then, when you are in the room with dancers like Natalia and Sergei the whole thing goes beyond what you imagined. This is down to their instinct as dancers and, of course, their technique and performance experience and who they are as people.

"My priority is that the work is created for the audience. It's important, especially if I am working on a narrative piece that the audience understand what's happening and that you can take the audience on the journey with you.

"Then there are the usual elements that need care - lighting levels, sound levels, costume and set design - which all have to serve the purpose of the work. Then, when you have Natalia and Sergei on the stage I have to consider the audience has an expectation of them as ballet stars, and somehow you have to deliver that but hopefully in a way that is unexpected yet satisfying."

What: Auckland Arts Festival - Osipova and Guests
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre; March 24 - 26