Versatility and Vision: Natalia Osipova on the U.S. Premiere of Force of Nature

January 16, 2023

For several years now, The Royal Ballet principal and international guest artist Natalia Osipova has struck out on her own to curate her own collaborative programs. On Saturday, January 21, she’s returning to the U.S. with her latest one: the American premiere of Force of Nature. The one-night-only performance at New York City Center, Osipova told Pointe in a phone interview, will include a selection of her favorite solo and partnered repertoire chosen to highlight her versatility and artistic freedom. A portion of the program’s proceeds will be donated to the Ukrainian relief effort.

In a white pancake tutu and matching headpiece, Natalia Osipova arches back in a fondu tendu derriere, arms behind her like wings, as she performs "The Dying Swan" onstage.
Osipova performing “The Dying Swan.” Photo by by Andrei Uspenski, courtesy NYCC.

Osipova presented a slightly different version of Force of Nature last July in Kromeriz, Czech Republic. With an updated repertoire lineup, the City Center performance will include classics like the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux, Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon Act I pas de deux and The Dying Swan, as well as contemporary pieces like Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste (which was created on Osipova and David Hallberg in 2018, and works by Sibi Larbi Cherkaoui, Frederick Ashton and Jason Kittelberger. Osipova’s partners for the evening include Kittelberger, who is also her husband, and Royal Ballet principals Reece Clarke and Marcelino Sambé.

Osipova talked to Pointe about her goals for Force of Nature and for herself as an artist, why she still gets nervous before performing and more.

You have an established career at The Royal Ballet and beyond. What made you decide to create your own program?

It’s about context and what I want to do now as an artist. I do so many shows, between full seasons with The Royal Ballet and additional guest performances. But sometimes you want to dance the roles you want to dance. I know the New York audience loves ballet, and it knows me because I’ve guested with American Ballet Theatre, but I want to show them more of my skills.

I chose the name “Force of Nature” because everybody seems to say that about me—that I’m a force of nature. I wanted to use that characterization of my artistic personality (I’m much shyer and calmer offstage) and speak about it myself, through dance.

I also want to show them I’m not so old! I’m just 36 and can still dance. The program will be almost two hours without a break, so it will be a challenge but will show my stamina.

Force of Nature will include a diverse selection of repertoire. How did you choose what to perform?

This program is about me as a dancer and what I love about dance. Don Quixote is like my past; it’s so bold and grand and Bolshoi style, but as I continue to dance and get older I’ve learned how to use my charisma and energy differently. Everyone thinks I’m a super jumper with lots of energy, but sometimes I want to be really feminine and gentle. I love the MacMillan repertoire, and I especially think his Manon pas de deux is one of the most beautiful ever made.

I’m also going to give my own interpretation of The Dying Swan. It’s such a special piece for a woman and ballet actress; it’s really individual and shows exactly what you feel. This will be my version, and I hope people will be interested to see it.

There will be lots of contemporary repertoire, too. I’m excited to debut Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s new duet Pure,with Jason [Kittelberger]. And for Ratmansky’s Valse Triste, even though David [Hallberg] has retired, I want to continue to dance it as a gift to Alexei. It’s so special to me, and I want to keep it alive.

In a white pancake tutu and matching headpiece, Natalia Osipova extends in an exuberant arabesque as she performs "The Dying Swan" onstage.
Osipova performing “The Dying Swan.” Photo by by Andrei Uspenski, courtesy NYCC.

You co-choreographed a new duet, Ashes, with your husband, Jason Kittelberger. Could you tell us more about it?

Jason started this piece for us because we work so closely together, not just as a couple but as artists who understand together. Ashes was first a solo for me set to amazing Balkan music. Now, it’s a bit bigger, and he’s dancing with me. The piece is about where you were born and who you lose. I always want to go back to my village and see my grandmother, to open the door and see the house where I lived. It’s always in me, and I want to say that I remember the small life and love it, and I want to share that feeling. When you see the piece, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s really personal, not just for me, but for everybody—to remember your family, your roots and what’s important to you.

What has your rehearsal process been like?

For me, it’s best to focus on the same piece for some time—you take a week or 10 days to work on just that one so your mind can really focus on it. And after it’s inside you, you can move on to the next. Later, you can rehearse all the pieces together.

I just work hard and try to be prepared. I’m excited when I get onstage, but before that it’s just working, working, working. I also get nervous; it all goes together. Even as an older dancer, you get nervous because you always want to do your best.

Any parting thoughts?

My dream is to share my own creations with different people. One day I will have to stop dancing, and I’d like to direct a company that shows my vision and does diverse repertoire—it’s always beautiful when lots of talented people work together. This program is a starting point.