BWW Review: ALINA COJOCARU, Sadler's Wells
A busy week of dance in London is brought to a radiant conclusion by the perfect delicacy of English National Ballet Lead Principal Alina Cojocaru, with support from some esteemed friends.
Cojocaru's venture lends itself to comparison with Natalia Osipova's recent solo escapades, but the two offer deeply contrasting insights. Whilst Osipova is keen to experiment in explosive, often emotive contemporary work, Cojocaru (for the most part) keeps her pointe shoes on in a charming evening of sensitively danced classical pieces.
Cojocaru never danced the lead role in Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand in her time with the Royal Ballet. It's a wrong that is earnestly righted here with luxury casting - most notably young ENB Principal Francisco Gabriele Frola as her lover, with able support from Johan Kobborg and Alistair Marriot as Marguerite's father and a Duke, respectively.
Cojocaru's naturally gentle, fragile aura suits the Parisian protagonist. From the moment her eye is caught by Frola's commanding Armand, this enigmatic pair draw in their audience. It's understated but engrossing. The busy scenes are fully cast with admirers and suitors filling the stage to evoke an atmosphere not normally seen on the Sadler's Wells stage. Cecil Beaton's recognisable set and costumes provide opulence, while Sasha Grynyuk wholeheartedly commits to Franz Liszt's demanding score.
While the one-act Ashton ballet provides the most cogent contribution to the programme, the first half is a mixed chocolate box selection that lacks some cohesion. Tim Rushton's Reminiscence does at least touch upon showcasing Cojocaru's classical technique and strength.
There is of course a wonderful tenderness and familiarity in her partnership with real-life partner Kobborg. She is ethereal in the frequent lifts that demand supreme core strength as she floats across the stage. There's a section of choreography that sees her repeatedly développé, hold the position, and in another breath extend the leg higher - breathtaking control without any fuss.
The programme's first act is broken up by two short films directed by Kim Brandstrup. They are necessary to cover scene and costume changes, but only really engage if you hold a particular passion for Cojocaru's background and past. The footage from Kiev State Ballet School highlights the role Cojocaru's teachers have played and the gratitude she feels towards them, but the videos disrupt the momentum of the evening.
Kobborg's fun party piece Les Lutins takes us through to the interval and offers some welcome quirk and humour. Most notably, it features a memorable cameo from Royal Ballet Principal Marcelino Sambé, who fires through some virtuoso dancing, thrilling with turning jumps and pirouettes. "He's good, isn't he?" whispers my guest after witnessing about ten seconds of Sambé bounding around the stage, so obvious is his quality and charisma as he riffs with the onstage musicians.
He is subsequently joined by Takahiro Tamagawa and Cojocaru, who continue the interplay. It's a fun piece for a gala with nothing too serious to say.
This stop-start format may be frustrating, but it's easy to forgive the moment we are charmed by Cojocaru's majestic dancing and the accompanying star turns. There's a quality and class to the programme that makes it easy to turn a blind eye to its shortcomings.
Alina Cojocaru at Sadler's Wells runs until 23 February
Image: Andrej Uspenski