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Alina Cojocaru
An appreciation of the Royal Ballet's young star, winner of the Richard Sherrington Award for Best Female Dancer in 2002 and now guesting the world over. By Margaret Willis, October 2003

Alina Cojocaru's meteoric and well justified rise to fame has been just like one of those balletic fairy-tales in which a new corps de ballet member steps in for an injured principal at the last minute, and delivers a splendid performance. Given that in Alina's case, she found herself dancing a role created by the legendary Margot Fonteyn in front of critics who remembered Britain's favourite prima ballerina, it was no wonder that the Royal Opera House audience was buzzing in the interval, amazed at her talent, and wondering who she was and where she had come from. The following season, now as a First Soloist, she again saved the day, (or rather, days) 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 afterwards, she was promoted to principal. Since then, it's been a series of triumphs --and often surprises, such as when she was cast, not just in the role of Olga in John Cranko s Onegin, but also, as Tatiana the older sister and heroine of Pushkin's famous epic poem. I never looked at the casting when it went up as I had already been told that I was to dance Olga, she recalled. But then someone came and said that my name was also up for Tatiana and I couldn t believe it. I just love the poem --the story is so dramatic. Of course, I have read it in Russian where it is so much more emotional --especially the letter scene.
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"having watched Sylvie at the Royal Ballet, I knew that I should be continually coached and always be learning new things. I also knew I wanted to dance more than just classical ballets. So when I was home for the holidays, I called the Royal Ballet"
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So what is it that makes Alina so special and such a favourite with her audiences? Well, she's 5" 2', with melting brown eyes and a cheeky grin, is naturally charming and humble, and not one to thrust herself into the limelight. She looks like a well-scrubbed school-girl, swathed in an aura of innocence. But underneath the surface lies a charged current of conviction, knowing exactly what she wants of dance. She realises it can only be achieved by hard work, which she is prepared to do. And the results show. Once the curtain rises, she claims the stage as her own, soaring, leaping, turning and instinctively transforming herself into the r ole she is playing. I used to watch Sylvie Guillem preparing a role , she said, and that taught me so much. You just keep on learning . As Juliet, Alina 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 continued. 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 Alina is innately musical and her whole body poetically 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, Odette, Titania, Sugar Plum Fairy, Nikiya, which she has successfully claimed as her own. But she has also proved her strong, secure classical technique as a hot-blooded Kitri, as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling, in the plotless work of Symphonic Variations (the Margot role), and in various new contemporary works such as This House will Burn, which gave her a chance to be a heartless hooligan with steely technique rather than her usual lily-white, pensive beauty. And recently, she showed off her comic streak in Flindt's The Lesson.
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Alina Cojocaru as Giselle.
Photo: © Bill Cooper

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Alina was born in Bucharest, Romania and, at seven, was taken to a gymnastics class in the hopes that it would help her to grow. But when an injury put paid to her dreams there, she accompanied a friend to her first ballet class and quickly discovered that it offered possibilities, especially as she was constantly commended for her flexibility. A few months later, talent scouts from the Ukraine came to Bucharest and invited Alina and seven other children to train at the renowned Kiev State Ballet school. It was hard for my family, she recalled. It was such a long way away -- twenty-seven hours by train. We knew no one there and none of us could speak Russian or Ukrainian. But the nine year old girl was a conscientious worker and her talent was quickly noticed. During her six years there, she danced many major roles both with the school and with the company. When she was just 16, she won a medal at the 1997 Moscow International competition, where, as the youngest competitor, she showed six variations. Among them was an enchanting performance of Auber's Pas Classique filled with rock-steady balances and confident manner, and later, a solo from Paquita where she sported a stunning orange-sherbet tutu and delivered the pzazz to go with it. I only had five days to rehearse all those things, she now admits. A scholarship from the Prix de Lausanne enabled her to come to the Royal Ballet School in London for six months. But before she had ended the course, Kiev came calling, enticing her with top roles. She was whisked off to the Ukraine again where she picked up on her school studies with her old friends, as well as much performing. It was the hardest time in my life, she recalled. I was doing my written work and preparing for my school concert at the same time as preparing for my debut in Don Quixote. Alina graduated from the school and spent a year as principal with the Kiev State Ballet dancing most major classical roles including Aurora, Swanilda, Cinderella and Clara -- she was only 17.
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"She looks like a well-scrubbed school-girl, swathed in an aura of innocence."
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Then came decision time. Just before the beginning of the season, Alina, with a contract to stay on in Kiev, was uncertain about the best way to progress. I was feeling a little troubled. as I was finding, that once I had performed a role, I was being told the next time that I only had to polish it. But having watched Sylvie at the Royal Ballet, I knew that I should be continually coached and always be learning new things. I also knew I wanted to dance more than just classical ballets. So when I was home for the holidays, I called the Royal Ballet. I was offered a place in the corps, and I then had to decide. Where would I learn most? as a principal in Kiev ?or as a corps member in London? With tears from her teacher and friends, Alina decided to drop her principal status and come to England. She found it somewhat difficult at first not to lose her own individuality, being one of many in a long line, nearly every night. However, I now think it was good to work there , she added. It s all about teamwork and when you get your lines straight, everyone notices and you feel good. But I did find it hard to always have my arms just like everyone else when I felt they d look much better held differently! And, as I was small, I was always in the front row so I couldn t always peek and watch what the ballerina was doing! But it was a good experience, and I now realise how important it is to feel the support and participation of the corps, of everyone, in my own performances. And support is something that Alina receives in abundance today from her adoring audiences in many countries around the world.
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Alina Cojocaru
Photo: © Bill Cooper