Johan Kobborg asked David Umenoto to design the sets for his Romeo and Juliet which has its world premiere in Verona's vast Arena on 26 August. The commission came about after Kobborg had seen an exhibition of Umenoto's sculptures:
His works are contemporary but respect the past – you can feel the importance of memory yet there is a profound break with it. After seeing his sculptures, I realised that there were many ways of telling the same story.
Kobborg is looking to create not just a new production of Romeo and Juliet (using Sergei Prokofiev's music) but is also aiming to modify the approach to mounting a ballet.
Dance seen as pure entertainment continues to function, but ballet is an art that is slowly dying, killed by the same people who should be assisting it. How will it change? It's difficult to predict.
Just look at everyday stimuli, from Instagram to streaming services – today people want access to information as quickly as possible otherwise they become bored. Ballet is no exception. Obviously, there are limits, but I'm trying to tell a story with a certain pace and energy, without eliminating the essential moments.
Sergei Polunin is Kobborg's Romeo, and his wife, Alina Cojocaru, his Juliet.
Some choreographers try to create tension on stage relying just on the music, or using smoke effects or projections with red lights to conjure up romantic moments. Our strength will be in the undeniable skills of Alina and Sergei. I only need to provide them with the perfect atmosphere in which they can demonstrate what they are capable of. I have had complete creative freedom, so if it doesn't work, only I'm to blame.
At 38, Cojocaru has a two-decade career behind her.
I don't think I'll still be dancing in ten years' time – it's a difficult profession that demands great dedication and commitment.
She marvels that dance still has the power to enthral.
TV and cinema offer series and films that are visually spectacular and full of special effects. When I go on stage, I ask myself how I can hope to win over the same spectators only with my body movements. At that point, I just trust the music or my partner.
Dance is a language, and so it has a vocabulary, but it is one of the most complex vocabularies. The steps are an important part certainly, but only if they are telling a story.
Cojocaru won the Prix de Lausanne when she was 15, became a principal dancer with the Kiev Ballet when still a teenager and, when she was 20, she was promoted to the same rank with The Royal Ballet.
We often concentrate on what others think of us and forget to grow in a way that makes us fulfilled. Dancers are used to hearing from teachers, from the outset, what is right or wrong, how to move and why. The same happens when we are adults and enter a ballet company. When I was 20, I decided to take back control, to understand better what I wanted and what I liked.
Today I am happy and fulfilled. I work with people I admire, and who allow me to grow, both as a woman and as an artist. This is the meaning of life, isn't it? To try to be ourselves, without fear. On stage and off.
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Below, the evolving publicity for the ballet with Cojocaru finally taking her place beside her Romeo (top):
— Johan Kobborg (@KOBBORG) August 12, 2019
Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru's words are taken from an interview with Il venerdì magazine published with La Repubblica.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.