Awakening desire in his audience

WHEN Cork City Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty opens at Cork Opera House on Thursday, it’s probably safe to say the majority of the audience will be women.

They won’t miss a movement, or a rippling muscle. That’s because the Prince will be danced by Sergio Torrado, who caused a sensation partnering Natalie Portman in the film Black Swan two years ago.

Playing Aurora will be the exquisite Monica Fotescu-Uta, from the Dortmund Theatre Company, and there is likely to be a collective sigh of envy when she is awakened from her 100 years of sleep by the kiss of Spaniard Torrado, a favourite with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Born in Madrid, Torrado started dancing at the age of seven. At 17, he moved to ballet school in California, and joined the San Francisco Ballet in 1999. He become a soloist in 2003. Four years later, he joined the Pennsylvania Ballet; then came Black Swan and star status. Last year, he was invited to New Zealand, to dance the role of Prince Désiré in Sleeping Beauty for Royal New Zealand Ballet. Désiré? The prince is called Florimund, but ‘Désiré’ was deemed suitable for Torrado.

Torrado had other offers, but he stayed with Royal New Zealand because of their new artistic director, the legendary Ethan Stiefel, and because they performed constantly.

There was also the attraction of a female dancer with whom Torrado was romantically linked. To learn more about that, check out the New Zealand reality TV show, Secret Lives of Dancers.

In ballet, you go where you are invited, and Germany beckoned next. Torrado is dancing in Essen, and for the past few weeks has been commuting to Dortmund to rehearse with Fotescu-Uta for their roles in Cork. “I am so pleased to be here for this performance with Cork City Ballet. I was in Ireland once, a long time ago, with the San Francisco company, but that was only in Dublin,” Torrado says.

Torrado looks every inch the glamour pin-up, but is courteous and slightly shy, and was says he was dazed by to be chosen to partner Natalie Portman in Black Swan. “It’s one of the most endearing things about him,” says Alan Foley, artistic director of Cork City Ballet. “You talk to him about Black Swan and he looks slightly embarrassed and says, ‘I don’t know why they chose me — I’m nothing special’.” Director Darren Aronofsky thought otherwise, considering Torrado’s good looks, superb balletic skills and hint of brutality to be ideal.

Torrado does have one regret about that film. A sex scene between Portman and himself was cut. “At first, I was shocked when the director said to me, ‘You must do this’, but then it was not so bad when we were actually filming it. It is a pity it did not get used, as I would have liked my brothers to see me in that,” he says.

When the news broke that Cork City Ballet had secured Torrado, the balloon went up, says Alan Foley. “I had a female friend at the BBC who rang me and said, ‘Tell me it isn’t true, that he’s coming over to dance with you?’ And I said ‘Well, yes, of course he is’. The upshot is that not just one, but several BBC female executives are flying in specially to see him here in Sleeping Beauty”.

“It’s very important that the stars we bring in to dance the leading roles are at the top of their profession,” Foley says. “We’ve set a standard in that over the years, and I wanted the best this year, especially as we’re doing Beauty for the first time as a professional company. Just wait until you see him partnering Monica Fotescu-Uta, as the Prince and Aurora. They are simply stunning together. There is no other way to describe it.”

It is the biggest task Cork City Ballet has undertaken, with four acts and 70 in the cast, backstage staff and costume changers. “You have the prologue, which is the christening, then the garden scene, then the forest scene, and then the wedding, with a different set of costumes for every act.”

Foley says he knew Beauty would be big as it is regarded as the Everests of all the ballets. He had vowed he wouldn’t do it until he had everything in place, though funding is always going to be an issue for a major production such as this. “If it wasn’t for the City Council, the Firkin Crane, Cork Opera House, and the Irish Examiner we could never have managed it. But I really do believe it’s the best we’ve ever done.”

It’s not just the audience that enjoys the thrill of seeing international stars.

“Sergio and Monica have just flown in to join the company at rehearsal and you can imagine the excitement it’s been creating. Our own dancers, and the younger students who are brought in for cameo roles and small parts, can’t believe their luck at taking classes with stars of this calibre. I might say, ‘Sergio, can you take those lads over there and go through these steps with them?’ And he’ll do that, no problem. Or the girls see how Monica tackles a particularly challenging solo and their eyes never leave her. They’re learning so much, taking it all in.”

Just as enthusiastic audiences in Cork and Wexford will do over the next few days.

* The Sleeping Beauty, Cork Opera House, Thur-Sat, Nov 22-24; Wexford Opera House, Sun Nov 25, 8pm.

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