Here is the English version of an article which appears in the current issue of Tanz, a German arts magazine. It features an interview with young English dancer Daniela Norman, and Alina Cojocaru, Romania’s finest ever ballet dancer.
Speak to any of the dancers given a chance to shine by Johan Kobborg during his spell as artistic director of the Romanian National Ballet (RNB) and the words passion and trust will crop up time and again. Daniela Norman, a young English ballerina who danced for Kobborg in Bucharest was lucky enough to feel that passion and trust firsthand: ‘Johan is one of the best artistic directors out there; he had so much care, love and support for the ballet company and for each individual dancer. He turned the company into a family, which I think is an incredibly rare and special thing. His faith in young dancers to take on solo roles, something which may not happen for years in other companies, helped us grow as artists and see what we can achieve.’
Strange then that in April Tiberiu Soare, the conductor appointed interim boss at the Romanian National Opera (RNO) – of which the ballet is an integral part – suddenly and without warning removed Kobborg from his role as artistic director. Kobborg, citing intimidation and fears for the future of the ballet, resigned.
A number of dancers, including Alina Cojocaru, Romania’s finest ever ballerina and Kobborg’s fiancee, gathered in front of the opera house in a show of solidarity for the Dane. A counter-demonstration took place, with some of the opera’s Romanian employees supporting management, complaining – amongst other things – that Kobborg had made the working language of the opera English.
‘We had the belief that everything was going in the right direction, towards changing the RNB into a professional, international-level team,’ Cojocaru told Tanz. ‘Johan agreed to come to Romania because the opera’s management at that time shared his vision. We understand that change is not always embraced by everyone with the same enthusiasm, especially by those who do not perhaps benefit from it. However, we also know that in art, he who doesn’t change and improve lags behind. The world is our stage and refusing to see that displays fear and mediocrity. I believe the people who oppose Johan are fearful of losing their positions and privileges.’
Kobborg was invited to take over the RNB in January 2014, after a successful staging of his La Sylphide. He immediately set about revolutionising the company, paying attention to the most specific details. Physiotherapists were brought in to help prevent injuries; working conditions for the dancers were significantly improved; professional dance floors were installed in all of the opera’s studios and also on the stage; a green room was created, and a gym built. Specialists from Gaynor Minden individually fitted shoes for every dancer. Numerous performers made their debuts, and equal opportunity was offered to all dancers regardless of rank or nationality. The RNB became a meritocracy. The ballet’s somewhat unadventurous repertoire was enriched with a wide range of productions: DSCH, The Dream, Marguerite and Armand, Petite Mort, Manon, La fille mal gardee and Giselle all played to full houses, thus vindicating Kobborg’s changes in the eyes of the public. A public which, it should be added, came from far and wide: by now word had spread that something rather special was happening in Bucharest.
The future is less bright. Romania’s Minister of Culture Vlad Alexandrescu (who appointed Soare) resigned over his inability to resolve the problems at the RNB. His replacement, Corina Suteu, has so far not made the ballet a priority. Cojocaru remains hopeful of a positive outcome, but offers words of warning: ‘Now we wait and see what the government, including the Ministry of Culture, will do,’ she said. ‘Will they continue with the reforms which have taken our theatre to the world? This is a test: if they pass, Romania will separate from its past for good. Should they fail, we will all go back in time 25 years.’
Daniela Norman, who resigned from the RNB to return to England, where she is dancing with the English National Ballet, was less hopeful: ‘I came to dance for Johan. I left Bucharest because I didn’t want to work under narrow minded management restricting my growth as an artist. He created magic amongst us. It’s heartbreaking to see it all being torn down.’