Alina Cojocaru, one of the most versatile ballerinas of her generation, is in Tokyo with her Alina Cojocaru Dream Project 2014 gala. This follows on from her first – and succesful – gala in Tokyo, in 2012. Dancers from the Royal Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and the Opera Nationalà Bucuresti assembled for this intimate evening. This gala also aims to raise funds for the people still suffering from the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that took place in northern Japan, and, as well as the dancers collecting donations from the audience, a charity auctioned their autographed pointe shoes.

The program shows Cojocaru's many faces. In program A, she danced the roles of Odette (Swan Lake), Medora (Le Corsaire), and Julie (Liliom), the latter a John Neumeier choreography created on her in 2011. Although Cojocaru has immaculate classical technique, it is clear she has now grown into being a more dramatic and modern dancer. Her Odette with Johan Kobborg, while beautiful, lacked the lyricism and ethereal lines that the role requires. It would have been a better choice to dance a more British, and more dramatic role... these really suit her.

On the other hand, the audience was lucky to see her in an excerpt of Liliom, with Hamburg Ballet’s Carsten Jung in the title role, and she as Julie, the ill-fated girl that falls in love with him. Performing only a snippet from a full evening story ballet is not easy, but here we got to see the haunting power of Cojocaru's dramatic quality, her gentle heart gradually melting for the brute of a man that is Liliom, and their souls touching each other. She has absorbed the specific choreographic idiom of Neumeier, both limpid and eloquent, and while she has matured in recent years, still looks like an innocent young girl. Jung was marvelous, his gentleness a contrast to the savage appearance of the role. This pas de deux had so much warmth, and I wish I to see the whole work one day.

Another standout was Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, performed by Miyako Yoshida and Steven McRae. McRae has just made the Russian audience and critics ecstatic with his incredible technique and speed – in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Here, he lived up to his fame again, and danced as though he was the devil himself, with unbelievable musicality and swift chaines. His partnership with Yoshida was lovely, with both of them so good at responding to the music and creating, together, a dazzling atmosphere. Yoshida is a ballerina who seems to have stopped ageing. Her flowing movements were radiant and airy, and her pirouettes so rhythmical they became music notes themselves.

With this gala Cojocaru also introduced dancers not yet known by Japanese audiences, and it was a pleasure to watch Jurigita Doronina and Issac Hernandez (Dutch National Ballet) performing Two Pieces for HET by Hans van Manen.  Doronina especially, with her intelligent, eloquent movements showing her inner depth was stunning. Theirs was a strong partnership, and one which transposed the sensuality, delicate emotions and nuances of this beautiful work.Several dancers from Opera Nationalà Bucuresti also participated in this gala and prima ballerina Sena Hidaka’s Vaganova technique, gorgeous feet and high extensions left a strong impression in Esmeralda ( partnered by Dawid Trzensimiech formally of Royal Ballet) .

The gala concluded with a special treat; Le Corsaire Divertissement with the dancers joining in a delightful party on stage. Starting with the luscious bedroom pas de deux (Cojocaru and Kobborg) then the flamboyant Slave pas de deux (where McRae showed his bewitching leaps and Doronina her fouettes with bedazzling port de bras), it also featured Lauren Cuthbertson (Royal Ballet) and Sena Hidaka, whose variations were full of classical beauty. Vadim Muntagirov (Royal Ballet) as Conrad, displayed bravura with elegance and virtuosity and Hernandez’s Ali’s leaps were clean, with beautiful landings. Cojocaru nailed her Italian fouettes with glamour and strong balance, and all the women joined her in a feast of crispy turns, while the men engaged in endless pirouettes a la seconde. 

This was such an enjoyable gala, in which I could feel the warmth and generosity of Cojocaru, who always gives everything she has to her art. The gala continues with Program B which starts on July 25th.