Delicate Charm Meets Steely Technique: Alina Cojocaru Has Stolen the Hearts of British Balletomanes. (Cover Story)
Willis, Margaret, Dance Magazine
SHE'S 5'2" WITH MELTING BROWN eyes and a cheeky grin, and she holds the London dance world in her thrall. Yet The Royal Ballet's young Alina Cojocaru seems oblivious to all the attention she's getting. "Do you mean it?" she queried, those eyes growing larger by the moment. "I'm so busy doing my job that I don't know what the public is saying. Yes, I read my reviews, as I am curious to see how others view me. But tell me, why is it important to always compare dancers to others? I dance as I feel the ballet, not because I want to look the same as the dancer last night!" If anything, it's the others who wouldn't mind dancing like her.
Cojocaru's meteoric and well-justified rise to fame has been one of those balletic fairy tales in which a new corps member steps in for an injured principal at the last minute and delivers a splendid performance. In Cojocaru's case, it was the role in Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations, created by the legendary Margot Fonteyn, that she unexpectedly danced on February 29, 2000. At the interval, the Royal Opera House audience was buzzing, wondering who she was, where she had come from, and how to pronounce her name (it's Ko-ja-CAR-ooh). (In subsequent productions that year, many binoculars focused on the corps, eager to spot her again.)
The following season, as a first soloist, she again saved the day when she took over the principal roles of Clara and Juliet for two more injured ballerinas. Then she was given the opportunity to dance Giselle in her own right and gave such a moving performance that immediately afterward she was promoted to principal. And it's been a series of triumphs since then.
When we talked, Cojocaru was preparing for The Royal Ballet's November premiere of John Cranko's Onegin, not just in the role of Olga but also, much to everyone's surprise and eager anticipation, as Tatiana, the older sister and heroine of Pushkin's famous epic poem (see March review on www.dancemagazine.com). "I never looked at the casting, as I had already been told that I was to dance Olga," she reported. "But then someone said my name was also up for Tatiana and I couldn't believe it. I don't think it will be hard to be Tatiana in the first two acts except perhaps for all the quick costume changes. But in the third, she is married and is old, over 30, I think," and Cojocaru, 20, giggled at the thought of being that ancient. "I am especially looking forward to the final scene. It is so dramatic. Will I be too young and small for the role? No! My first teacher taught me how not to make myself look small onstage--how to dance bigger, how to make myself look and feel heavier," said Cojocaru, a mere will-o'-the-wisp.
Cojocaru looks like a well-scrubbed schoolgirl, swathed in an aura of innocence. But underneath lies a current of conviction. Once the curtain rises, she claims the stage, instinctively transforming herself into the role she is playing.
AS JULIET, COJOCARU MADE UP dialogue for herself, which she rehearsed in a mirror beforehand, to clarify the actions of her character. "Acting must come naturally and move freely with you as you dance," she explained. "So I would speak the words and watch how my body responded. Then I would incorporate those movements into my dancing. Juliet was always my dream to dance."
Cojocaru is innately musical and her whole body breathes the patterns of the music in elegant, fluid movements. She links each episode seamlessly, her arms are held in graceful epaulement, her back is pliant yet strong, her footwork is exacting, and her turns are vertiginous and accurate. With her petite frame and deceptively fragile appearance, she is perfect for the romantic roles of Giselle, Juliet, Clara, and Titania. But she has also proved her strong, secure classical technique as a hot-blooded Kitri, in the plotless work of Symphonic Variations, and in contemporary works such as This House Will Burn, which gave her a chance to be a heartless hooligan with steely technique. …