Alina Cojocaru review – goosebumpy delight and gems amid disjointed evening

Sadler’s Wells, London
The English National Ballet’s luminous lead principal here creates her own show, ranging from Frederick Ashton to Arvo Pärt and two superb short films

It’s impossible not to love Alina Cojocaru. There’s no ballerina more natural on stage, a bringer of light with a kind of innocent intelligence always dancing around her face. A lead principal with English National Ballet, the 38-year-old now brings her first wholly self-produced offering, following the likes of Sylvie Guillem and Natalia Osipova in creating her own show. But where Guillem and Osipova used the platform to experiment with contemporary dance, that’s not Cojocaru’s jam.

Instead, she brings a slightly disjointed collection of short ballets and films, followed by Frederick Ashton’s meatier Marguerite and Armand from 1963. There are gemlike moments from the off. The simplicity of Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence, danced with partner Johan Kobborg to Arvo Pärt offers goosebumpy delight in the tenderness of their hands meeting palm to palm. She raises her leg in delicate developpé and it just keeps rising, as if lifted by air, so seemingly effortless is her mastery of this fiendish discipline.

Simplicity … Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence at Sadler’s Wells.
Simplicity … Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence at Sadler’s Wells. Photograph: Andrej Uspenski

Two highlights are short films by choreographer/director Kim Brandstrup, beautifully made miniatures rich with insight into a dancer’s world. The first, Faces, watches Cojocaru in mesmerising closeup as she marks through a dance in her head, her eyes tracing a story. Kiev is a personal portrait of the dancer revisiting her old ballet school and it poignantly shows the thread of learning passed on, the imprint of teachers’ words and hands living in her dancing body.

Watch trailer for Alina Cojocaru

Marguerite and Armand is new to Cojocaru and she gives a sensitive performance as the consumptive courtesan mourning her lost young love, never tipping into the melodrama some dancers do. ENB’s Francesco Gabriele Frola ably plays her adoring young lover, but their partnership doesn’t soar to the absolute heights. Kobborg’s own Les Lutins is a bit cutesy. It gives Marcelino Sambé and Takahiro Tamagawa the chance to show off fanciful flights of tightly beating footwork, racing against Sasha Grynyuk’s virtuoso violin, yet when Cojocaru appears she just wiggles her bum. So much for girl power.

The individual pieces all have much to recommend them, and there’s live music, too, but the bitty format means there is little flow to the evening. Still, perhaps that can be forgiven for the luminous Cojocaru.

• At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 23 February.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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