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About the Change

Alina Cojocaru & Johan Kobborg

Principals, Royal Ballet

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg are partners both in dance and life. Jeffery Taylor spoke to them about their partnership and how it was threatened when Alina suffered a spinal injury...

© Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Dance Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 17 01 2010

© royal ballet

Cojocaru Interviews on
November 2005

December 2001

Other interview links on the Resources page for Alina Cojocaru

Cojocaru in reviews

Kobborg Interviews on
June 2009

October 2005

September 2003

March 2002

Other interview links on the Resources page for Johan Kobborg

Kobborg in reviews

recent RB reviews

Jeffery Taylor reviews

Web version held on by kind permission of Jeffery Taylor and the Sunday Express

Express Website

It all seems too good to be true. Two extravagantly talented and beautiful people, the darlings of press and public alike, are as soppy about their golden moments as any sentimental Joe and Joyce aboard the Clapham omnibus. “We danced our first Romeo & Juliet in February 2001, and that was it,” says Johan Kobborg of his on and off stage partner, Alina Cojocaru, both Principal dancers with the Royal Ballet. “I never looked back,” he adds. Cojocaru stepped in on that fateful evening as a last minute replacement for an injured colleague and over the past two weeks at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the golden couple have recreated their special moment in Kenneth MacMillan’s modern masterpiece about Shakespeare’s star crossed lovers. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Kobborg.

But there is a fundamental fact in the life of Kobborg, 37, and Cojocaru, 28, reared in Bucharest in Ceausescu’s Romania, that for most of us would seem at best unwise, at worst, madness. They live and work together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 months of the year. How do they cope when the only obvious way out of a stressful domestic is the imposition of a severe shaking of your other half? Needless to say, Danish born Kobborg’s answer is Nordic cool. “When you do the same job, in a way it gives you more tolerance, it makes you more understanding.” If only real life for the rest of us was so simple. Cojocaru continues, “I’m a perfectionist and sometimes in rehearsal I get very frustrated, and take it out on the pianist, the teachers and Johan. I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously. I don’t try to be perfect every day.” That’s all very well and noble of you, Alina, but do you admit you feel occasionally like strangling the blighter? “Yes,” is her brief but heartfelt reply. Kobborg doesn’t miss a beat. “When we argue,” he says, “sorry, I mean discuss, things, it’s always work related, never do we argue about silly things like who does the dishes.” If the pair of you can bottle that, you’ll be billionaires overnight. “I just tell Alina to get on with it,” he says poker faced. Cojocaru, choosing to ignore the dig, expounds on the safe environment built on a sound relationship. “Usually when I get home I sit and cannot move for half an hour or more. I just have to shut down totally before I move or speak.”

Alina Cojocaru
© Royal Ballet

A dancer’s life is short enough; there is a total and traumatic life change in middle age when most human beings are reaping the benefits of child rearing and career building. But for Cojocaru three years ago arguably at the peak of her startlingly virtuoso technique and mining exciting new depths as an actress, a total shut down threatened her career at the tender age of 25. In April 2007 a partner, whom she resolutely refuses to name, handled her awkwardly in a lift. “It was a whiplash injury,” she remembers, “a prolapsed disc that protruded into the nerve and arm. It was the sort of pain that paralyses you.” A spinal injury can so easily be the death knell to a dancer’s professional life. “Then, I didn’t think my dancing days were over, that hit me a year later when it happened again. This is the end, I thought. I rested for 4 months and it didn’t get better, I didn’t know what to do. I eventually discovered a surgeon in Germany, but still you never know what will happen, no surgery is guaranteed. All is well now, but it took me a year to get back on stage.


Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in Romeo and Juliet
© John Ross

“With that sort of injury you have to rely on yourself” she recalls. “People saying I must get back to dancing quickly was very hard to take. On the other hand I was upset when no one paid me any attention. I always felt the greatest support from Johan, but it was a lonely journey.” Wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders, Kobborg is clearly moved. “Watching Alina through this nightmare has been an inspiration,” he says, “a serious lesson in real life.”

The reality of a relationship for most couples is a family of their own. But in a high powered lifestyle in which everything depends on constantly maintaining a physical peak of excellence, could Cojocaru’s physique tolerate another 12 to 18 months lack of training and performance practise? There are no doubts as far as she is concerned. “I’m a woman and I will feel when the time is right,” she says emphatically. “We haven’t talked about it much but there’s no question that we will have children.” Nor does she believe motherhood will impact on her dancing. “It won’t affect my career,” she asserts. “I will just carry on, having children is a perfectly

Johan Kobborg
© Royal Ballet
normal part of life.” Nearing 40, Kobborg’s retirement is fast approaching. “When we have children,” he explains, “I might have stopped dancing anyway, but it has to be thought through before the child is born. Whatever I may be doing, our careers will have to be carefully coordinated for the child’s sake in it’s all important early years. “

Love and success in spades must form its own bubble, is there a counter balance that keeps their feet anywhere near the earth trodden by the rest of us? “I’m very into design,” admits an enthusiastic Kobborg, “I call myself a home fanatic, DIY the lot, though I don’t paint the walls as often I used to. I want to create a dream environment for us.” They share a flat a couple of miles east of their workplace, the Royal Opera House. “I also do a lot of gardening in our roof garden,” he goes on. “As for me,” Cojocaru jumps in, “I sit in the dream house he’s created and do cross stitch. I love it. You have to concentrate on every detail, your thoughts can’t just wander off like they do when you read. When you are following a complicated design you cannot think about that awkward variation you have to do the next day.” Well, I know which I prefer. I’ll take Cojocaru’s awkward variation over cross stitch any time.

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