DAY OF SLEEPING BEAUTIES: ALINA COJOCARU AND NATALIA OSIPOVA

Alina Cojocaru and Jose Carreno in Sleeping Beauty, photo by Gene Schiavone. (My favorite pose in all of life – no hands fish dive :) )

And Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg as Aurora and Prince Desire, photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

So, I spent another Saturday at Lincoln Center, watching back-to-back Sleeping Beauties. This is probably my least favorite ballet — neither the story nor the choreography really speaks to me – but I was curious to see Alina Cojocaru in the role (it’s supposed to be her best and she’s was guesting for only one day from the Royal Ballet in London), and now that I’m an official Natalia Osipova fanatic, I must see her in everything she’s in.

So, matinee was Cojocaru. I thought overall she was really lovely and did as much as she could with what to me is a bland role. She was fresh, girlish and inquisitive in the first part when she’s meeting all the cavaliers and before she pricks her finger, then is more beatific and ethereal in the vision scene (where Prince Desire, out hunting, envisions her and then is led by the Lilac Fairy to her bed where he’ll kiss and awaken her – I don’t know how many people know the ballet), and then is full of grown-up, sophisticated charm in the third part when she marries the prince. A lot of ballerinas don’t really distinguish between the various stages of the ballet – their Auroras are the same throughout, so I liked that Cojocaru did this.

I just have to say, I’m sorry but for the first part of the Rose Adagio (where four cavaliers present her with roses, at the beginning) I couldn’t stop focusing on her feet.

I’m told people sitting farther back couldn’t see, so maybe it was just where I was sitting and that I wasn’t used to her, but apparently, growing up in Kiev she was very poor and had poor ballet shoes and so has many corns and bunions and has to wear extra wide shoes. She can’t have surgery or she won’t be able to dance anymore, so she’s waiting until retirement to have her feet fixed – if need be. But the toes of her pointe shoes are so wide. It was so different and I kept thinking, the English must really have a different style of shoes… But once I got past it, she danced that scene really beautifully. Her back leg in attitude (bent at knee) during the promenades was so high – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high attitude before. And she didn’t seem to shake at all during the very difficult balances (where she lets go of the cavalier’s hand and balances on the very tip of her toe shoe). Really phenomenal. Everything was beautiful – the turns and developes, the fish dives at the end. She embodied innocence and purity throughout. She was perfect for the family-heavy matinee.

Natalia Osipova’s evening performance was exactly the opposite. She is the queen of developes and turns and most of all JUMPS (hello!) but she didn’t make this ballet into Don Quixote, she kept it Sleeping Beauty. (Okay, I kind of wished she would have made it into Don Quixote but I know no one else would have so I’m glad she didn’t). Anyway, she began the rose adagio pretty shaky. Of course she did just get mugged – which everyone in the world now knows. And seriously, it’s kind of turning into a game of telephone – I saw one report that had the robber mugging her with the pointe shoe (and this wasn’t the Onion)… Anyway, she was pretty shaky, and she didn’t even put her arm up during the balances – she just went from one cavalier’s hand to the next. She got over her nerves thoughout the scene though and by the ending set of balances she was just fine. And then she did this set of turning jumps diagonally down the stage and of course I was smitten, pronouncing her in my head the best Aurora ever! (Sorry, I just go for the athletics…)

I wasn’t in love with the way she acted her Aurora’s getting pricked with the needle though. I liked Cojocaru’s much better. Cojocaru acted it as if she were a normal girl who found a toy, then realized it was sharp, threw it down, looked down at her finger, and began to get sleepy. No histrionics. I like it when there are no histrionics, when everything is realistic. Osipova did the opposite. She melodramatically tossed the spindle aside, threw her arm to her forehead and collapsed. Maybe it’s the way Russians are taught – just a different aesthetic; it is ballet, not a play, but I still like it when it’s more realistic. Maybe it’s just that she’s young though and still developing her acting skills.

Anyway, she was perfect in the wedding pas de deux. Her legs were so high in the fish dives, they were curved back around toward her head, her back was so arched. She made a really beautiful shape each time and it really contributed to the “sweeping me off my feet” feel. Even though her performance wasn’t perfect (I think it was her debut in the role?), I really loved her and I’m really glad she danced it. Her face didn’t look swollen or bruised or anything – no visible signs of the mugging.

And both partnerships worked very well. Jose Carreno partnered Cojocaru and David Hallberg was Osipova’s prince. I really liked the way David did the vision scene. He looked like a guy just out hunting with his friends until he was overtaken with this vision that he couldn’t shake. He gave the scene an arc, with proper build-up to the climax.

I liked Stella Abrera’s larger-than-life Lilac Fairy, liked Daniil Simkin’s high-flying Bluebird, and always love Yuriko Kajiya’s Fairy of Fervor. I missed seeing Blaine Hoven’s Bluebird this year; I wonder if he danced that role at all this year. I love how he’s such a large man but his jumps still really soar. I think Simkin is the king of continuous barrel turns with those crazy straight-legged doubles thrown in. Those are his trademark and I miss them whenever they’re not in his choreography.

Here’s a video of Cojocaru’s Rose Adagio from several years ago.

And of course the real genius behind Sleeping Beauty is Tchaikovsky. I could just sit there and listen to that ballet over and over again.

13 Comments

  1. I’m somewhat sure that Alina Cojocaru wears Gaynor Mindens. At least that’s what the official GM website says. That may be why her shoes looked weird to you. While I love my GMs, they do look strange on stage compared to traditional pointe shoes.

    *shrug*

  2. She moved from Bucarest to Kiev at nine and stayed nine years. Things in both places then became pretty desperate. There are several video interviews with dancers in Russian and East European languages saying how tough it was to get pointes and keep them in good shape. I think it’s Irina Dvorovenko (not in her Bloch Brand video! some other) who says they had to sit around sewing them up nightly. I think Diana Osipova says something like that in one of her Russian language interviews. The struggles that ballet comes complete with…

    • Oh wow. Thanks for the background info, Peter. Yeah, ballet is definitely the dance form that must take the greatest toll on your body – especially for the women. It’s really all the more to her credit then for becoming such a magnificent ballerina.

  3. “growing up in Kiev she was very poor and had poor ballet shoes and so has many corns and bunions and has to wear extra wide shoes. She can’t have surgery or she won’t be able to dance anymore, so she’s waiting until retirement to have her feet fixed – if need be”

    Tonya Plank, did Alina Cojocaru tell you ALL this??????

    yes Alina Cojocaru wears Gaynor Mindens, according to GMs’ tweet. very decent and comfy shoes!

  4. Nice to hear of Alina Cojocaru doing well in the states, and glad to hear that she is dancing well as she spent alot of the last two seasons with the Royal out injured with a bad neck.

  5. It isn’t because they are Gaynors that they look odd, but because of the specifications of them. You are used to seeing Gaynors–both Gillian and Veronika wear them, as well as various other dancers at ABT. The width of the boxes has nothing to do with their being Gaynors per se, but rather with the needs of her particular feet due to bunions and injuries.

  6. Tonya, a lot of people passionately hate the look of them, so it wasn’t a bizarre comment or anything, but I happen to know you (watching Veronika and other ABT dancers who wear them) know what they look like, so that wouldn’t be the issue in this case. :)

    Gaynors have some detractors. Less now than in the past, but still it is an issue. There is actually a video they (Gaynor Minden themselves) put on youtube that deals with that. I forget which former NYCB ballerina goes on and on about how much she hates the look of them. There is also some cute footage of a very young Gillian talking about how much she loves them. Worth checking out.

  7. Actually, Cojocaru was not poor while in Kiev at all. Her parents owned a marketplace in Bucharest, and she used to shower her ballet teachers in Kiev with various gifts while at the school. Besides that, she used Grishko pointe shoes while in Kiev throughout her ballet training there. So, it’s difficult to say that the shoes are the reason for her bunions. Bad training, bad habits, or genetics, maybe. Shoes? No way. Almost all Russian/Former USSR ballet students used Grishko shoes in the 90s (with Sansha becoming available in the very late 90’s), and none of them have such ruined feet.

    And, even if she were to use the “poor” ballet shoes, the only option she would have was to buy the shoes made by the Kiev National Theatre for their ballerinas which their ballerinas frequently resold to students if they themselves preferred to dance in Grishko. And trust me, those shoes are actually quite wonderful, with the only defect being that the cork softens on the bottom a little quicker than with brand shoes. But, even with that, again, none of the students that came out of Kiev had their feet deformed like that.

    Furthermore, Cojocaru’s bunions did not start appearing until she entered her 20’s, so it certainly cannot be caused by the shoes she used in training.

    • While I don’t doubt your statements (I’ve never heard of anyone blaming a pointe-brand or make for bunions..), do you have any sources on the facts you state here?
      And also, did Cojocaru ever claim herself it was the shoes that made her feet like they are? I think, as with the Osipova mugging-story, this is also quite the game of telephone…

      • Well, the Osipova mugging story was covered in the newspapers, so I assume that’s true. With Cojocaru’s shoes / feet, it may be a game of telephone issue. That’s the story I’ve heard – from numerous people – but I don’t know where they all got their stories from. I thought I’d also seen it posted somewhere but now I can’t seem to find it on the internet. But, my question is, why would her feet look so differently from everyone else’s? Not all ballerinas have so many bunions that they need to wear extra wide shoes, right?

  8. Great post!
    You touch into the main reason why I prefer Cojocaru to Osipova any day, and it’s not about technique or skill. They are both excellent ballerinas, with their fortes and weaker points like anyone, but Cojocaru just has the taste. She is so refined, yet so natural.

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