Cooper, one of the Royal Ballet's brightest young stars in the early 1990's, shot to international fame as the Swan in Matthew Bourne's stunning make over of ballet classic Swan Lake. This was a part that he reprised for the final scene of the film "Billy Elliot," where he played the adult Billy.
In 2002 Cooper scored a hit in the Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes — last seen in the West End some 20 years ago — which he starred in and choreographed at the Leicester Haymarket.
Now impresario Raymond Gubbay is bringing On Your Toes to the Royal Festival Hall for a five-week season that officially opens Aug. 7. We went to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to talk to Cooper about the show and his career plans for the future.
What do you most enjoy about this production of On Your Toes? "It works for me on several levels. First, although I'm maintaining a ballet career, I've always been interested in acting and singing, and this gives me a chance to demonstrate that I can do both. It's also a great piece to work on as a choreographer. The music is wonderful, and the ballet sequence, 'Slaughter On 10th Avenue' is particularly good to work with." What have you done with it? "I've completely re-choreographed it. I wanted to give it a modern feel, to make it of today, and to show that it isn't just a relic of the 1930's. Balanchine's choreography was, however good, very much a product of the 1930's, and I wanted something more modern. I didn't research the original choreography, though you get a clue from the stage directions on the music score, but I just ignored them! Similarly, I didn't talk to anyone from the last London production, in the 1980's. The music is amazing, and it's the music that tells me, as a choreographer, what I need to do."
You're dancing with your wife, Sarah Wildor. Presumably that's a help when it came to rehearsals as well as actually performing the piece? "Yes! We have a sort of sixth sense about dancing together, so she gets what I mean when I'm beginning to describe a movement — it makes choreographing her very easy. We only partnered each other once during our time at the Royal Ballet, in a Kenneth Macmillan piece called The Invitation."
Kenneth Macmillan was a strong influence on you? "Very. He was the one who saw I had talent and plucked me from the corps de ballet and gave me my first solo roles. And he created the best role for any male ballet dancer, Crown Prince Rudolph in Mayerling. Although male ballet dancers are often famous in their own right, it's still the case that almost all classic ballets — and modern ones, really — are centered on the ballerina rather than the boy.
Given ballet, like opera, has to be planned far ahead, how does your cross-over into theatre affect your schedule? "It can be difficult, not least because commercial theatre schedules are by definition less predictable than work in a major opera house. I turned down the lead in Mayerling at the Royal Ballet last year because it looked as though On Your Toes, which was a hit at Leicester, would move into London fairly quickly. In the end it took longer than we had planned, so I ended up doing neither, but that's show business..."
Have you always wanted to make the transition to theatre or is this something fairly new? "I've always enjoyed singing, and taken singing lessons through my career, and I've also always enjoyed acting. Both Sarah and I were attracted, at the Royal Ballet, to Kenneth Macmillan's work because he gives you more character to work with than many choreographers: The dance comes from the character's choices of action, and so there's more a sense, as a performer, of acting.
"What I hope On Your Toes in London will do is reinforce the idea of me as an actor and singer as well as a dancer. When I first appear on stage there's a sense of the audience wondering 'Can he really do it?' and that tension, the sense that they're willing you to be good. Fortunately the audiences at Leicester soon felt that, 'Yes, he can do it!' and they then enjoyed the show. I hope that's the same at the Festival Hall, only as we had a hit at Leicester last year people should already know that the musical works, and so there'll be far less of that initial wondering. And after this season, I hope people just take me as a mainstream performer with a ballet career, rather than a ballet dancer who also does theatre.
Regarding ballet and theatre, are you anywhere nearer appearing in a show about Nijinsky? "That's still very much an ongoing project, but I can't really say much about it. We've been hoping to get it on and in a theatre for some time now, and it's still something I'm keen to do."
Why do you think there's still such a fascination with Nijinsky? "It's partly because of his going mad, which lends an air of tragedy, a case of genius slipping over the edge, but there's also the glamour of his having been this amazing icon of the dance world. And he was a revolutionary new choreographer as well. As a dancer, he was supposed to have this extraordinary jump, but there isn't any film of him performing, so we have to take people's word for it. Whether he would seem quite so extraordinary today, when dancers have made such progress in terms of technique and performance, I don't know. But he would be fascinating to play on stage!"
Adam Cooper is starring in On Your Toes at the Royal Festival Hall from Aug. 4 (previews) until Sept. 6.