It must be difficult to programme a ballet gala: you need to include the old favourites an audience expects, but have enough variety to maintain interest as well. In Programme B of her Dream Project 2014 in Tokyo last month, Alina Cojocaru deftly balanced the classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet repertory to produce an exciting and memorable afternoon of dance. She was also able to field a cast that included eight principal dancers from four of Europe’s top ballet companies, so it goes without saying that the performances were of the highest calibre.
The first half of the programme was a well-thought-out mix of classical and neo-classical pieces, opening with a newly choreographed work set to Glazunov for Cojocaru and four suitors. There were three classical pas de deux, beginning with Flames of Paris, in which Lauren Cuthbertson and Vadim Muntagirov showed crystalline technique and musicality, along with some impressive fouettés (with cheeky hands on hips mid-turn) and thrilling pistol jumps. In the Black Swan pas de deux that followed, Iana Salenko as Odile gave Steven McRae’s Siegfried no chance to resist her charms. As he leant forward with her in arabesque, she glanced at the audience with a look that spoke volumes, and he responded with fireworks in his variation. Finally, the pas de deux from Don Quixote featured Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández of Dutch National Ballet, who combined astonishing balances and turns with fantastically cheeky characterisations.
While the classical repertory provided excitement, the interspersed neo-classical works offered emotion. Cojocaru seems born to dance Neumeier, and her elegance and restraint in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream pas de deux were ably matched by Dawid Trzensimiech’s. It is always great to see Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg together, and it was pleasing that the pas de deux they danced from Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land worked so well as a gala piece: the final kiss on Cojocaru’s neck was particularly heartbreaking.
Cojocaru closed the first half of the programme with what is arguably her signature piece: the Rose Adagio. Without distracting sets or costumes for the princes, her interpretation was the focus, and she covered the stage with youthful joy and refreshing spontaneity. The final string of balances, with Muntagirov, McRae and Hernández joining Kobborg as her princes, was the perfect way to end the half.
Shifting away from standard gala format, the second half of the Dream Project consisted of a one-act work from Romanian National Ballet: Edward Clug’s Radio and Juliet. Based on Romeo and Juliet, with music by Radiohead, this was contemporary in style and staging, featuring artfully directed video projections and an effectively sparse set. Led by Cojocaru and Trzensimiech (although the other five male company dancers seemed to play different aspects of Romeo), the piece shone when it echoed the classical style (a briefly held arabesque, the disjointed pointing of a foot) or incorporated the physicality of martial arts into the fight scenes. The music also worked well, although a single track played live as the lovers awoke seemed out of place. It was brave to set this piece alongside the classical repertoire of the first half, but the performances, especially from Cojocaru, were emotionally gripping.
To judge from the rapturous applause at the final curtain, the audience seemed to be hoping that there would be many more Dream Projects in the future. At the after-show Q&A (with Cojocaru, Kobborg, Cuthbertson, McRae, and Hernández), the dancers spoke of how much fun they’d had during their time in Tokyo preparing and performing, which certainly showed in their dancing. One advantage of dancer-curated galas that they mentioned (and this was echoed by Benjamin Pech and Isabelle Ciaravola at a Q&A session the next day for the Etoiles Gala) was that the dancers can do pieces that they really enjoy, or have never had a chance to do before.
The other point that came across in the Q&A was the generosity and kindness of Cojocaru. The Dream Project was being used to help raise funds for those affected by the 2011 earthquake in Japan (including an auction of signed shoes), and she was visibly humbled by the response. She finished by telling the audience: “Thank you for your support and keep smiling.” Simple advice from an extraordinary dancer.