Alina Cojocaru’s Sadler’s Wells potpourri redeemed by her stellar dancing

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Alina Cojocaru – Alina at Sadler’s Wells: Alina Cojocaru, dancers and musicians (Margarita Balanas [cello], Sasha Grynyuk [piano], and Charlie Siem [violin]). Sadler’s Wells, London, 20.2.2020. (JPr)

Alina Cojocaru in Juliano Nunes’s Journey (c) Andrej Uspenski


Passacaglia for violin and cello (comp. Handel, arr. Johan Halvorsen)
Reminiscence (choreographed by Tim Rushton and music by Arvo Pärt)
Dancers – Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg
Faces (excerpt from Kim Brandstrup’s three dance portraits film)
Journey (choreographed by Juliano Nunes and music by Luke Howard)
Dancers – Alina Cojocaru, Juliano Nunes, and Dominic Harrison
Kiev (film directed by Kim Brandstrup)
Les Lutins (choreographed by Johan Kobborg and music by Henryk Wieniawski and Antonio Bazzini)

Marguerite and Armand
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Music – Franz Liszt
Sets and Costumes design – Cecil Beaton
Lighting design – John B. Read
Staging – Jonathan Howells

Former Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru has been a Lead Principal with English National Ballet since 2013 and continues to be one of the finest ballerinas of her generation. Still at the height of her powers (review click here) Cojocaru insisted – in her interview with Mark Monahan for the Alina at Sadler’s Wells programme – that this is not a marked change in direction for her: ‘I’m not using this as a transition to modern dancing – I just want to explore.’ Indeed, after the potpourri of the first half, following an extended interval, there was Frederick Ashton’s 1963 Marguerite and Armand and Alina significantly added, ‘I wanted to have something with weight.’

Sadler’s Wells can seem – notwithstanding the top-priced tickets at £85 – a difficult place to fill these days for even a short run of performances. Still it was a pity more people have clearly not been attracted by Cojocaru’s self-produced programme. It follows the forays into contemporary dance by other famous ballerinas, such as, Sylvie Guillem (review click here) and, more recently, Natalia Osipova (review click here). Perhaps that there is often so little dancing is now more of a problem for potential audiences? If we ignore a musical introduction and two short films, all there was were three short contemporary works and the one-act Marguerite and Armand. To her credit was the somewhat innovative use of live music from the virtuosic trio of musicians and a strong ensemble of dancers supporting Cojocaru on stage, including her off-stage partner, Johan Kobborg, and The Royal Ballet’s Principal, Marcelino Sambé, illustrious dancers of different vintages.

The toing and froing of Halvorsen’s arrangement of Handel’s Passacaglia for violin and cello was an amuse-bouch for some dancing actually beginning. The first piece – Tim Rushton’s Reminscence choreographed to Arvo Pärt’s ubiquitous Spiegel im Spiegel was a rather cute – if rather plain – touchy-feely, relationship-based work, mostly requiring Kobborg to support Cojocaru whose recurring moves were to raise or splay her legs. Then we saw Faces – from choreographer and film-maker Kim Brandstrup – that showed close-ups of Cojocaru thinking through some dance steps. This was interesting if rather insubstantial. Juliano Nunes’s Journey was an over-extended stop-start pas de trois to Luke Howard’s music for Cojocaru, Nunes and Dominic Harrison and we didn’t see much more from Cojocaru than we did in Reminscence. Brandstrup’s Kiev – again wordless – involved a personal and deeply poignant reflection on Cojocaru’s return in December 2019 to her first ballet school in Kiev. It concentrated on the Mount Rushmore-like faces of her former teachers who – whilst not overtly showing it – were undoubtedly clearly full of pride for the success their former pupil has made of her career.

Highlight of the first half was Kobborg’s 2009 Les Lutins (in the programme translated as ‘The Imps’ or it could also be ‘The Leprechauns’) for two men (Sambé and, the equally outstanding, Takahiro Tamagawa) and a woman (Cojocaru, of course). It begins with a leaping and spinning solo – a tongue-in-cheek interaction between Sambé and the onstage musicians, violinist Charlie Siem and pianist Sasha Grynyuk playing pieces by Henryk Wieniawski and Antonio Bazzini. This was a more whimsical balletic threesome where a plucked violin string can correspond with a kick. Tamagawa and a wiggling Cojocaru then enter and the dynamic between the three becomes more complex and fascinating. Is it a macho dance-off for the men to strut their stuff or just a simple love triangle? Three supremely talented dancers kept us guessing.

Cojocaru is not new to Ashton’s famous Marguerite and Armand – in Cecil Beaton’s familiar spare but extremely romantic designs – having danced it as recently as earlier this month with Sergei Polunin in Tokyo. Her Marguerite was coquettish, secure in the knowledge of her youthful allure to men, yet also equally aware of her impending mortality because of consumption. Fragile yes, but also wishing to live life to the fullest while she can. Cojocaru brought all the dramatic moments to vivid life through every look and movement of her body. Would that what went on around her had been worthy of this stellar performance. Everybody else seemed to go through the motions, or perhaps they needed a few more performances for everything to come together?

ENB’s Principal Francesco Gabriele Frola was her Armand, although he is undoubtedly a gifted dancer, he is no Polunin, nor Nureyev who created the role. Where was his uncontrollable desire for the courtesan whose death at the end should have resonated more than it did? Sadly, Frola’s Armand was just a facsimile and he lacked the elan and charisma of some who have preceded him. What passion there was came from Sasha Grynyuk’s piano in the orchestra pit; however, that showed the perils of live music as he raced through Liszt’s tempestuous B minor piano sonata. With Grynyuk’s head in the score there was little opportunity for the dancers to live and breathe the music that unfortunately sounded as if it was played on a clangourous, echoing, piano, as well as, evidently over-amplified.

Jim Pritchard

For more about what is on at Sadler’s Wells click here.

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