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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WMS Operations

£55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WM...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising and Campaigns Officer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Fundraising and Campaigns Off...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Appliance Service Engineer

£21000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This centre seeks an experience...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness