There was total silence by the end of English National Ballet's first go at Pina Bausch's raw Rite of Spring, and much of the performance's success came down to a tiny dancer: Francesca Velicu. Handpicked to be The Chosen One, the Romanian corps member threw herself into the role with an innocence that made the ritual newly terrifying. "It brought me the most intense and emotional moments that I'll ever experience onstage," she says.
At just 19, Velicu is already walking in the footsteps of ballet's reigning Romanian star, her ENB colleague Alina Cojocaru. Born in Bucharest, Velicu earned top finishes at Youth America Grand Prix and completed her training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 2015, she joined the Romanian National Ballet under Johan Kobborg, who fast-tracked her: In one season, she danced Kitri, Theme and Variations and numerous soloist roles, honing her effervescent technique with breezy confidence.
ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo clearly agreed, and after Kobborg's abrupt exit in Bucharest, Velicu relocated to London in 2016. The versatile young dancer relishes ENB's diverse repertoire, from the classics to Akram Khan and Bausch. "Since I joined the company, I've had challenge after challenge," she says, adding: "Being coached every day by some of the greatest names in the ballet world can only inspire you." Odds are the determined Velicu, whose goals include dancing Manon and Juliet, will make her mark there.