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About the Change

Adam Cooper

Freelance dancer, choreographer
and pin-up!

by Karen Ritchie and Jane Napier

© RB

our earlier interview

Cooper in reviews

Cooper in all reviews

Sitting two feet from dance superstar Adam Cooper could well have been an unnerving experience but as Jane and I walked into the interview he greeted us like friends and we felt as if we had known him for years.

For the benefit of new fans, whose numbers continue to grow weekly, we began by asking Adam to remind us how it had all started. ‘Dad played for the local dancing school and we went to see one of the shows.’ The little Cooper boys, Adam and Simon then aged about four and five respectively already harboured dreams of becoming Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. ‘once we saw this show and realised that it was out there we decided we wanted to do it’. They duly took up tap lessons and then on the advice of their teacher, who recognised their latent abilities, ballet lessons followed. Adam took the lead followed shortly by Simon. It was then the older brother who led the way first to Arts Educational School at The Barbican at age 11 and then to Royal Ballet School at 16. Having been moved up a year Adam did two years at the Royal to Simon’s three.

‘At the end of my second year I’d been to the Prix de Lausanne with the school through default because several people were injured, but I ended up going and won a prize there’

This substitution for an injured school mate, albeit a very successful one for Adam, was ironically to set a precedent for the future but for now:

‘I got to do the lead in the school performance and got a job in the Company when I was 18.’

The intense competition of those years took its toll on the brothers’ otherwise close relationship.

‘We’re so very, very close now and have a great relationship. Once we’d left school and we’d gone our separate ways it was fine. I think it was that competition thing. The fact that he had this little git of a brother, well big git of a younger brother following him around everywhere and competing with him all the time. He never felt like he could do anything in his own right. There was always this thing over his shoulder. But then after we left school we moved in together almost straight away and since then everything’s been great’.

The pair have never performed together but there was a hint of future possibilities.

‘I’ve been doing this Exeter Festival for the last couple of years and I think if we do another one next year I’d like to something for the two of us’

All down to Exeter next year then folks.


Adam Cooper's bio shot
Photograph © and courtesy of the Royal Ballet

Having originally trained in a variety of performing disciplines what is it about dancing that Adam loves and which prompts the kind of performances that can leave audiences breathless and craving for more?

‘I always found it an escape from reality. I think that I feel safest on stage. In this kind of box I can do anything. I can become anyone. I can just lose myself. I’m quite a shy person and I find that I can be more of myself on stage…………I love the buzz of it, the excitement. I love the feeling of getting those nerves before a show and the adrenaline rush. I think it’s fantastic and that’s what I live for really. The side of dance that I love is the dramatic side, becoming somebody. I love the movement aspect of it as well but the real buzz I get is becoming a character. That’s what I really enjoy doing.’

Adam spent eight years with the Royal Ballet and in his own words ‘did a lot’ but there was always a feeling that his talents and potential were not fully recognised or appreciated. Despite this Sir Anthony Dowell was recently quoted as saying that Adam was the hero of the Company. So is that what it felt like?

‘No. More like the carpet of the company. I got into the situation when I was here when I used to say “Yes” to everything because I wanted to get on, because at the time there were a lot of glamorous foreign names in the Company so it was difficult to get on in certain things. So whenever anybody went off I would always go on as their replacement and in that respect I suppose they always thought of me as the hero but I always thought of myself as being walked over a bit. I got left with the impression that I was good enough as a replacement but never good enough in my own right.…….The first time I was invited back to do anything in my own right was Onegin. Having done Swan Lake and then come back to the company, my confidence was at such a low ebb that I felt that if I don’t get out now I’m just never going to want to dance again.’

A frightening thought indeed for the rest of us. Although he enjoys coming back to the Royal Opera House now and seeing old friends it can still feel ‘like going back to school’. But there is so much else in life now that this is a minor problem and one that is certainly not apparent in his definitive performance in the title role as the cool anti-hero, Onegin.

And so inevitably the conversation turns to Swan Lake, a role for which he will, like it or not, be forever remembered and which ultimately provided his way out of the Royal Ballet.

‘Swan Lake came along in ’95 and I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss really, because I’d seen Matthew’s work and I was aching to do something a bit different. I always felt the more modern stuff was more me than the classical ……. I loved doing it. It’s always got a special place for me.’

It was also, he freely admits one of the toughest roles he has ever done.

‘Every time I do the role I have to have a good holiday afterwards. It kills me because it is so demanding but it’s so satisfying at the same time. The most satisfying thing about it for me was the fact that it reached such a huge audience. The range of people that would appreciate it, it’s fantastic and that’s what we should be trying to do with all types of dance. Take it out there to a new audience because otherwise it dies.’

So the burning question, so often asked, would he ever reprise the role?

‘What I really want to do is new things. Things that I can create myself, and roles that I haven’t tackled yet because that’s how you grow as a performer. If you just repeat yourself time and time again, you get stuck in a rut. I had two real partners that I did it mostly with, Scott Ambler and Ben Wright. It would be difficult going back to do it with somebody else because in that piece your partner is so important.’

Seems unlikely then but never say never. With the success of Swan Lake came the chance he had been looking for to make the break with The Royal Ballet.

‘I realised that this was my time to get out because with all the publicity of Swan Lake it would be stupid to pass up the opportunity. I always felt that I never really wanted to be a ballet dancer. I wanted to be a performer. I always knew I wanted to do other things. I wanted to do acting and singing and all the other dance stuff which I had trained in and choreography.

Adam stayed with Matthew Bourne’s company. AMP, for his reworking of Cinderella, which provided a colourful and successful vehicle for Adam and his wife Sarah Wildor. Matthew Bourne, one of our busiest choreographers has himself moved on to New Adventures so might we see a future collaboration?

‘His way of working is fantastic because you can put so much of yourself into it and he’s brilliant. His ideas are fantastic so yeah, I’d love to do something with him again.’

After Cinderella, Sarah resumed her career with the Royal and Adam began to forge his own path. It must have been a bit scary at first.

‘Less so now. It was at the beginning because, especially when you’re faced with long periods of no work, it’s a bit scary when you’ve got a mortgage to pay but for the last three years I have been constantly working.’

Adam’s desire to have a go at everything has seen him in a couple of small straight acting roles, The Viscomte in ‘Madame Bovary’ and as Eros, God of Love (typecasting Adam?) in a recent version of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. There have, of course, been numerous dancing roles both here and abroad. His talents are much in demand. He has worked with K Ballet in Japan, where he created a new piece ‘Six Faces’, not seen in Britain. His work at this year’s Exeter Festival has received high praise. A tribute to Kenneth Macmillan which has found great favour with his widow, Deborah, and which may yet get a London showing, it all depends on the workload. He scored a triumph earlier this year when he choreographed and starred in the stage musical ‘On Your Toes’. It was here that audiences first got to see how multi-faceted he really is, as he tap-danced, sang and acted with superb comic timing. It has opened him up to a whole new audience.

‘I’ve really fallen in love with musicals actually. Having done ‘On Your Toes’ I love the singing/acting/dancing side of it so I want to do more of that. I’d really like to do more of that and some straight acting as well, concentrate on that cross-over.

What are the plans for the immediate future? After a well-earned holiday at the end of ‘Onegin’…..

‘I am in the middle of choreographing a musical in Sweden, ‘Garbo the Musical’ I go back to finish that off in August. I’m there for about seven weeks until the middle of September and then we’re hoping to do ‘On Your Toes’ again. The plan is to take it to the Cardiff International Music Festival for two or three weeks in the middle of October and then bring it back to London, possibly the Old Vic. So that’s the plan at the moment, which is why I can’t do Mayerling.’

To round off the interview we asked a few questions to get to know the man behind the performer. What are his favourite roles?

‘Mayerling’, of course; Lescaut in ‘Manon’; Tybalt; The Swan, obviously; The man in ‘Gloria’

Roles he dislikes most: Anything in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Ballet Imperial I grew to hate because I had to do it so much and I hated the costumes. If you don’t feel good in the costume you might as well forget it. We did them in the old, old costumes which were these brown tunics with these white wigs and little pillbox hats. I felt like such a nelly and it’s the same with ‘Beauty’ the costumes were so horrific that you never felt you could dance well. So to sort of counteract that you end up playing up to it, camping it up and I did get into trouble for doing that.’

Despite heavy commitments Adam is also registered on the teaching staff at London Studio Centre and has managed to teach the occasional ballet class, something he also enjoys when time permits. In this hectic schedule is there any time for leisure activities?

‘I just like to read and I like to veg like everybody else really. And it’s so rare now. Just mucking around at home is great because it’s such a rarity now we really make the most of that. I’m a real home-loving person really. Nothing makes me happier than just spending time at home. I go and see films and go out to see the odd musical or play. I just like being at home. I like crime novels. I’m into Rebus at the moment and Minnette Walters’.

A long-term supporter of Liverpool FC Adam also enjoys watching sports on TV and occasionally plays squash.

For the benefit of his many American fans we asked if there are any plans to return there? I am afraid there is nothing planned at the moment but there is always the possibility that ‘On Your Toes’ might be exported and there is possible news that the ‘Liaison’ project on which he has been working for the last two years may be on again. As a new producer has, hopefully, been found who may want to take that project to the States too. Adam loves working in the States and would be delighted to return.

It was a joy to be able to talk to Adam at last and to find him so open and friendly. I had expected rather more guarded answers to some of our questions but he is charmingly self-deprecating at times, for example revelling in the memory of being booed at a performance of ‘The Judas Tree’ in Germany. Yes it could have been an unnerving experience but it was anything but. The hour we spent with Adam flew by very pleasantly and I hope we all know him just a little better now.

And yes he knows how much interest there is in what he is doing and is aware of the difficulty his fans have in finding out up to date information. We have entered discussions with him about a possible web-site diary of events and he has promised to keep us informed. Watch this space.

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