A Royal Exodus?

Earlier in the month, the first bit of news reached my ears: principal dancers Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg were leaving the Royal Ballet at the end of the season. Noooo! I am such a huge fan of this couple, partners onstage and off, even though living in California, I harbor little chance of seeing them perform live. Still processing this, its implication for Royal Ballet patrons, I spied this news from the ballet world yesterday: Royal Ballet principal ballerina Leanne Benjamin had just given her final performance on their London stage. Or, wait – was it principal Mara Galeazzi who was giving her final performance and leaving at season’s end? Gasp! Both of them?! This, on top of losing Alina and Johan. On top of losing Tamara. On top of losing…

Yikes. Let me catch my breath. Let’s back up, shall we?

The Royal Ballet, London, spring of 2012. In the final months of artistic director Monica Mason’s ten-year tenure, Sergei Polunin, prodigiously talented, alluring young principal, flakes out and quits, mid-season. (Don’t get me started on him. What a spoiled, petulant, prima dona of a dancer, dropping responsibility and commitment whenever it suits him, which he can do because of his extraordinary gift. Whoops. You got me started. Did I tell you not to get me started? Now look what’s happened. Here, read this. Then let’s move on to discussing more worthy dancers. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/10084739/Sergei-Polunin-Whoever-thought-of-making-ballet-Its-definitely-not-my-passion.html )

Where was I? Oh. Sorry. Exit Sergei Polunin. Exit Dame Monica Mason in July 2012, retiring as director of the Royal Ballet (and a former company ballerina-turned-administrator, a total of 54 years with the organization). Exit, around the same time, the sublimely talented prima ballerina Tamara Rojo, who leaves the company to become artistic director of the English National Ballet, as well as continuing to perform, now with them.

Enter the Royal Ballet’s new director, Kevin O’Hare, most recently the company’s administrative director. 46 years old, Royal Ballet School-trained, a former principal with the Birmingham Royal Ballet before shifting to administration. In my uninformed opinion, he looks and sounds like a great guy, with the right skills, ethic and attitude for the job. And observe his first coup as director: signing on internationally acclaimed prima ballerina Natalia Osipova, the 26-year-old star, formerly of the Bolshoi, who will join the Royal Ballet next season (in addition to dancing with the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg and the American Ballet Theatre).

Only now, look what’s happening over at the Royal Ballet. While the retirements of principals Leanne Benjamin and Mara Galeazzi were expected, the departures of principals Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg were not. Dispute with management, perhaps made worse by Osipova’s imminent arrival? Falling out of favor? Speculation and opinions abound. One thing is certain: losing this duo is a huge loss, not just for the Royal Ballet but for all its patrons. As is the loss of the two retiring longtime principals.

I must confess I’d never heard of Leanne Benjamin or Mara Galeazzi, but that’s likely because I live under a rock out here on the West Coast. That’s why I now rely on the Internet and online dance forums and fellow bloggers.

Leanne Benjamin first. Powerfully talented and hard-working. Spirited. An Aussie. I have never met an Aussie I didn’t adore. She has a beautiful, striking face, a perfect sense of dramatic timing, and seemingly boundless youthful energy, even at age forty-nine. It’s been said that age has not detracted from her skills in the least and that, if anything, she’s been dancing better and better in past years. Dang. You have to admire a woman like that. And she took that risk I love hearing about: choosing to have a family as well as a dance career. Her daughter is now ten. Isn’t that the greatest?

Benjamin has been with the Royal Ballet for 21 years, a principal since 1993. Her last performance will be in Tokyo on July 10th in A Gala Evening with The Royal Ballet. (Her final performance at The Royal Opera House was June 15, in Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling.)

And then there is Italian ballerina Mara Galeazzi, who joined the Royal Ballet in 1992 (made principal in 2003), whose final performance with the company will be in Monaco on June 29, where she will perform the title role in Manon. Galeazzi, who had her first child in the spring of 2012, has an unusual post-ballet life and career awaiting her. First, a move to Muscat, Oman, to rejoin her husband where his work is based. There, in addition to teaching dance, she will devote time to her charity foundation, Dancing for the Children, which raises funds to help children in Africa affected by HIV. How incredible and worthy is that? Further, all of this has transpired since she fell ill in 2005 and was diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder. Doctors told her she only had two more years of dancing left, and could never have children. Happily, she ignored their prognosis. It was at this challenging time, as well, that she began her active involvement in international charity fundraising work. Wow. Another warrior woman.

Wishing all of these women the very best of luck.

What lies ahead for the Royal Ballet, in 2013-2014 and beyond? I will be all eyes and ears.

4 thoughts on “A Royal Exodus?”

  1. It will be interesting to see where Alina and Johan end up, so I don’t believe ballet patrons have seen the last of them.

    It will be interesting to see how Royal moves on, but I think usually when you’re under new leadership, you kind of expect that kind of thing. It will be different, but I’m sure they’ll bring quality to the stage at Covent Gardens.

    I still don’t think Royal’s been quite the same since Darcey Bussell retired.

    • Enjoyed your comments, loveballet 89! You’re right, it is typical of a change of leadership at the helm to have these sort of shifts and rumblings. I can’t help but wonder if it’s b/c Johan is considered past prime and Alina left out of loyalty to the partnership. Hard to believe they didn’t want to keep her there – seems like she has such a draw. (Pure speculation on my part, really, from here, under my rock.) I heard some speculation that he could establish his own company with her there dancing in it. If he’s into the choreography angle of things, does that mean he’s into the artistic director angle? Certainly he’s got the pedigree.

      One of the articles I read about the Royal Ballet that was interesting was about the dearth of RB School trained students, and how they’re having to cherry-pick international competition winners to fill the ranks, both at the higher levels in the school, and in the company. Seems like it’s been a while since any home grown talent has exploded on the scene, but I guess that’s true for a lot of companies. School graduates make excellent corps material, but it doesn’t mean they’re principal material.

      Now that I’m following the goings-on there at the Royal Ballet more closely, it will be fun to watch and listen and see what happens. I think you’re right – they’re sure to bring a class act to the stage, regardless.

      Thanks for chiming in – I always enjoy your comments here.

  2. Katherine, we are reading each other’s minds this morning! Just saw your Twitter post. Actually, I guess I’m reading YOUR mind, since you got the news out there two hours before me. Am linking the above to today’s blog as well.

    Boy, you are GOOD at getting the news out there fast! : )


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