Dance Alina Co­jo­caru brings in­ter­na­tional flair to QB’s The Sleep­ing Beauty

Bal­let’s ac­claimed ‘pocket Venus’ is in Bris­bane to dance Aurora in The Sleep­ing Beauty. By Sharon Verghis

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

‘Ial­ways look for the drama in every­thing.” Alina Co­jo­caru’s bold dec­la­ra­tion of her dance phi­los­o­phy is ren­dered in the whis­pery, singsong ca­dences of a lit­tle girl; she is so softly spo­ken that I’m forced to ask her to speak up. A re­signed chuckle trav­els down the phone line. “I’m so sorry. I’m al­ways be­ing asked to do that.”

It’s late evening in Lon­don and Re­view has caught the prima bal­le­rina dur­ing a rare 24hour win­dow of down­time in her busy in­ter­na­tional sched­ule: the night be­fore, she danced the role of Solveig in John Neumeier’s Peer Gynt for Ham­burg Bal­lett in Ger­many; the next day she would per­form in Romeo and Juliet with the English Na­tional Bal­let in Bris­tol be­fore board­ing a flight to Bris­bane for three guest ap­pear­ances in Queens­land Bal­let’s The Sleep­ing Beauty and then boomerang­ing back across the hemi­spheres to Ham­burg again for Neumeier’s

Lil­iom, his cel­e­brated be­spoke bal­let for her. If she’s feel­ing strained by the work­load, it’s not ev­i­dent. At 32, Co­jo­caru still re­sem­bles an art­less schoolgirl (stand­ing at 157cm and 40kg, she’s been de­scribed as a “pocket Venus”) but her fragility is de­cep­tive. There is a vein of steely strength in every­thing from her per­fec­tion­ism in the stu­dio to her abil­ity to fill huge spa­ces with her wraith’s body, to the de­ci­sions she makes in man­ag­ing her per­sonal brand: this in­cludes, among other things, shock­ing the dance world by de­fect­ing from the mighty Royal Bal­let two years ago. Why? “Well, I wanted to see what was above the ceil­ing,” she says calmly in that tiny child’s voice.

Ap­plaud­ing her gutsy per­for­mance as Kitri in Don Quixote, The New York Times’ dance critic Alis­tair Macau­lay once re­marked, al­most as if sur­prised, that “she’s not the waif she of­ten seems”.

The doll-like dancer, hailed as one of the great­est of her gen­er­a­tion, has been con­found­ing ex­pec­ta­tions since she first slipped on a pair of pointe shoes.

Her for­mi­da­ble drive pro­pelled her from a work­ing­class child­hood in com­mu­nist Ro­ma­nia to Kiev and then on to Covent Gar­den, where, at the Royal Bal­let, she learned ev­ery step of Ash­ton’s Sym­phonic

Vari­a­tions in just three days af­ter the lead dancer was in­jured, prac­tis­ing in her tiny flat in Lon­don with an­kle weights. In 2008, she fought back from a po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing neck in­jury in re­hearsal to re­build a lauded ca­reer as prin­ci­pal at the Royal Bal­let.

This week, Co­jo­caru, now prin­ci­pal dancer at the English Na­tional Bal­let, flew into Bris­bane for the first of three guest ap­pear­ances in The

Sleep­ing Beauty for Queens­land Bal­let. She will dance the role of Aurora op­po­site prin­ci­pal Chi Cao; with her rock-solid bal­ances — on show in the in­fa­mous Rose Ada­gio — lyri­cism and sto­ry­telling flair, she’s re­garded as one of in­ter­na­tional bal­let’s most com­pelling Au­ro­ras.

It’s a happy coup for Li Cunxin, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Queens­land Bal­let, who says Co­jo­caru (in Bris­bane cour­tesy of the Queens­land gov­ern­ment’s Su­per Star Fund) is “one of the best dancers in the world. Her artistry and tech­nique is flaw­less, her char­ac­ter por­trayal beau­ti­ful, her lines pure and move­ments fluid.”

On her part, Co­jo­caru, who guest-starred with fi­ance Jo­han Kob­borg in the Aus­tralian Bal­let’s Manon last year, is happy to have fi­nally pinned down a time in her tight sched­ule to reprise one her favourite roles with the smaller state com­pany: she’s im­pressed with Li’s am­bi­tions for QB, and “it makes you wish to do every­thing to make it hap­pen”.

The youngest daugh­ter of a gro­cer and seam­stress, Co­jo­caru was born in Bucharest on May 27, 1981. As a child she ex­celled in gym­nas­tics be­fore switch­ing to bal­let, where her pre­co­cious tal­ent was quickly spot­ted. She was picked for a stu­dent ex­change at the Kiev Bal­let School, board­ing a train for the 27-hour jour­ney at age nine: it was 1990, a year af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion in Ro­ma­nia, and “we were one of the first chil­dren in Ro­ma­nia to have pass­ports and be able to leave the coun­try”. Did she feel home­sick? She pauses: “It was hard, I think, for my par­ents but be­ing so young, it was much eas­ier to adapt.”

In this clois­tered en­vi­ron­ment, she did classes with­out ever see­ing a full per­for­mance; she says her teach­ers’ praise was all that mo­ti­vated her un­til watch­ing a per­for­mance of Giselle fi­nally lit the per­form­ing fires. Her tal­ent fu­elled a me­te­oric rise. In 1998, a schol­ar­ship from the Prix de Lau­sanne en­abled her to at­tend the Royal Bal­let School in Lon­don for six months. She was of­fered a con­tract at the com­pany but chose to re­turn to the Kiev Bal­let, where she took up the po­si­tion as prin­ci­pal aged 17. But spurred by a de­sire to learn more, she re­turned to the Royal Bal­let, join­ing the corps de bal­let in 1999. Co­jo­caru wouldn’t re­main in the wings for long: her rise at Covent Gar­den sprang from that clas­sic bal­let fairy­tale of the un­der­study shoot­ing to sud­den stardom af­ter re­plac­ing an in­jured star.

This came when she stepped on stage on Fe­bru­ary 29, 2000 in Fred­er­ick Ash­ton’s Sym­phonic

Vari­a­tions, cre­ated for Mar­got Fonteyn. A critic at the time said that “at in­ter­val, the Royal

JACK TRAN

Alina Co­jo­caru, be­low, and danc­ing in the

English Na­tional Bal­let’s Le Cor­saire in

2013, right

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