Return of a star who quit: Jonathan Cope retired from the Royal Ballet aged 27. Now he is set for a comeback. Kathy Marks hears why

JONATHAN COPE stunned the dance world when he retired from the Royal Ballet at the age of 27 two years ago. The news that he will be returning to his former position as a principal male dancer this autumn comes as even more of a bombshell.

When he retired, Cope said that he was exhausted by the physical stress of ballet and hoped never to dance again. He left in pursuit of a lifestyle more in tune with that of the majority of the population, and went into property development.

'To be honest, it was a bit mundane, but it was something I had to do and I feel better for it,' he said last week. 'As a ballet dancer, you have such a sheltered existence. Everything is done for you.

'I wanted to see what life was like on the other side of the fence. I wanted to stay up late, drink as much wine as I liked, eat anything I fancied. Now I know that I want to dance.'

There may be a few noses out of joint, particularly among younger members of the Royal Ballet, when Cope makes his comeback in Swan Lake at Covent Garden in October. He has apparently been able to return to his starring role with one of the world's major ballet companies as if he had never been away.

It may well be that the soul-searching of the past couple of years was a result of too easy an ascent to the top. Leaving the Royal Ballet School in 1982, he was soon given leading roles in the classics and partnered with the best ballerinas.

But for Cope, who had been dancing from the age of six, the strains and injuries associated with ballet became too much. Pain was an inevitable part of the punishing fitness regime and he had to have operations on both shins to relieve the tight muscle sheath.

'I had had enough,' he said. 'I was frustrated all the time, sick of the discipline, burnt out. I think that maybe I never really wanted to dance; it was just my job. I suppose I was a bit of a prima donna.'

It was thus that Cope and a fellow former dancer found themselves developing a three-storey block in central London into flats for rent, moving in circles that could not be further removed from the world of classical ballet.

'It was certainly a change, sitting around with men in suits, trying to arrange large sums of finance.

'For the first time I was using my mind rather than my body and worrying about things other than looking and feeling good. But life was no richer.'

Apart from seeing a few performances, Cope effectively cut himself off from ballet, not even bothering to keep up with the gossip. The departure of his wife, the Portuguese-born ballerina Maria Almeida, from the Royal Ballet at the same time as his own, made this easier. She has no plans to return.

However, he never lost the urge to dance. 'It always haunted me a bit. I missed the adrenalin of performing. When I went to shows, I wanted to get up myself, I would think of ways that I would have done it differently.'

Cope is confident that he can return at the same professional level, and has been attending classes for four months to get back into shape. 'None of the pain has gone, but I feel more able to handle it because my attitude is much more positive,' he said.

Aware that reviewers are sharpening their knives in anticipation of his comeback, he is avoiding interviews with critics and was initially reluctant to be photographed off the stage.

'It probably took more courage to come back than it did to retire,' he said. 'But I've realised that you're fortunate if you have a job where you can express yourself. For the moment, I want to dance. In a year's time, things may be different.'

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence