The world-class Romanian ballerina on overcoming her major neck injury in EC1, and moving in with her fiancé, Danish dancer Johan Kobborg
How long have you lived here?
I came to Clerkenwell six years ago – I bought a flat near Clerkenwell Road. Then last October, I moved to the other side of Farringdon station, to move into Johan’s flat. So, before, we were just five minutes apart, in our two flats, which was fantastic. Very convenient! It was just a coincidence that we both lived in the same area.
Where were you before EC1?
I used to live on Charing Cross Road, just above Blood Brothers. I was there for four years and, you know what, I never saw the show! It was a tiny flat I rented there, and pretty noisy, but that didn’t bother me much – it was so close to work [the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden], I just used it as somewhere to sleep. Of course, there comes a time when you want your own home… And when I saw the Clerkenwell flat, I fell in love with it. It was so quiet, perfect. Perfect for one person, anyway…
Was that where you were living when you had your big neck injury?
Yes. I have lots of memories, both good ones and sad ones, of that flat, and of that time. At first, I was completely lost – there were no schedules, no shows coming up. I had time to read and watch TV. I’d be walking down the street and find that I’d be automatically going towards work! It was a battle, but at the same time I made a fantastic discovery: that there is life without ballet and I can enjoy it. I now like to keep home as home, and work as work. After a performance, when it’s late, I love to walk home, to have that transition. It relaxes me straight away.
What’s your place with Johan like?
I think the building is a converted jewellery workshop. Our flat is over two floors, and has a roof garden. Even if it’s raining, it’s just so magical to be up there and to have a breath of fresh air. There are lots of offices around us and it’s very busy during the day but, come 5 o’clock, it’s so quiet and private. We’ve actually just managed to unpack all our boxes, having repainted everywhere, and it’s become such a beautiful home.
Have you done anything else to it since you moved in?
We’ve put up some shelves, bought some furniture, but that’s all. There was a point when I thought of having a barre installed in one of the rooms, but it hasn’t happened yet – and I doubt it will! Having got engaged, it’s been fascinating putting our two lives together and seeing what we have that we like, and discovering things together that we want to put up on the walls. Johan’s old painting from his grandma, the cross-stitches I have from my mum… It’s a combination of old and new; of the past and the future. I love the way it’s turning out. We’ve not been in a rush to finish it.
Where do you and Johan hang out?
There’s one restaurant where the food is always better than I remember; it’s a Japanese called Tajima Tei on Leather Lane. I love Exmouth Market; I also like the many Italian restaurants in the area. Johan and I often say, “Ok, let’s just go out to eat,” and we head towards St John Street, and if we find somewhere on the way, we stop and try it. That’s what’s so great about Clerkenwell – you can just walk out and find something good.
What do you like about the area?
I love it that it’s quite community orientated. We have a dog, a wonderful little Chihuahua, and when we walk him people stop to ask, “How’s Charlie today?” They have no idea who we are but they know our dog’s name! We walk him at Lincoln’s Inn, as that’s on the way to work, and Clerkenwell Green.
Do you know much of the history around here?
Johan’s lived here longer than me and he really showed me around. We’d walk the streets and he’d tell me all about the area. It’s wonderful how you can turn a corner and something unexpected shows up, a building or a church or a shop. Clerkenwell has such a lovely sense of history. I would actually compare it with the Mariinsky Theatre in Kirov – as soon as you walk in, there’s something in the air; you can almost smell the history. I have the same magical feeling when I walk around Clerkenwell.
Do you miss EC1 when you travel?
Every time I come back from the airport – I do one or two trips abroad most months – I don’t even have to look out of the taxi window, even if I’m half asleep, to know that I’m back in Clerkenwell. I feel like I’m arriving home. I never get bored of it – it changes all the time. It seems so alive.
Do you have plans to stay here?
I’ve learnt that you never know where life will take you. And right now, all I know is that my life is here in Clerkenwell.
Alina and Johan, both principals of The Royal Ballet, are performing in “The Nutcracker” at the Royal Opera House this Christmas, from 3 December. www.roh.org.uk