Nothing, it seems, will ruffle the feathers of Adam Cooper, according to Mary Brennan

THE stories are now legion and legend: how Emma Thompson wanted to lick his trousers after seeing him star in Matthew Bourne's ground-breaking Swan Lake. How Shirley Maclaine attended three times during the show's Los Angeles run . . . how Bette Midler, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, and a host of other celluloid celebs all came, saw, and were conquered by Adam Cooper as The Swan. However, you won't necessarily hear these stories from Cooper himself - I didn't. Because Adam Cooper is, so far, keeping a sane distance from his own publicity.

He's aware - how could he not be - that the huge, high-profile success of Swan Lake has delivered him, like a sexy leather-clad package, into a province not usually occupied by classically- trained ballet dancers. Only the likes of Nureyev or Wayne Sleep - the one defecting from Mother Russia, the other defecting from ballet itself - have become similar objects of ravening curiosity. Cooper seems bemused, but most of all amused, by the angles this pressing attention takes.

He's been asked to write about his favourite holidays. He - and his girlfriend, Sarah Wildor - have modelled for glossy magazines. ''Someone even phoned up and wanted to do a feature-spread - maybe it was a makeover - on my kitchen . . . It's bizarre, unreal. I can't cook!'' His eyes roll heavenwards but, even so, he smiles. He knows this is all part of the game, part of the career dance.

''Yes it does feel weird, because so much of it relates to the part I played in act three of Swan Lake. The Man In Leather . . . But I'm nothing like that. On stage, maybe, yes, there are little bits of me in there. But I don't play myself on stage. It's a role. Something that I leave behind when I come off stage. But people don't, won't, accept that. It's not a problem. Well, not so far - and if it helps to sell a show, great.''

He knows, of course, that his joining Scottish Ballet as a guest lead in Tales of Hoffmann is bound to help box office. Saying ''yes'' to interview requests and photoshoots, when he doesn't particularly need the publicity himself, is just another way of expressing his support for the company, the production, and ballet itself. ''People assume that because I left the Royal Ballet that I've finished with ballet altogether. Not at all. No matter how much I criticise ballet, or do other things that take me away from it, I still have a love of ballet - especially this sort of

ballet, which has a strong dramatic feel to it. And a really great dramatic role for a man - which is what I'm really interested in doing right now.''

Later in our conversation, he picks up on the importance of good acting in ballet. ''I think the emphasis now is too much on technique. We're losing artistry. And that's causing problems. I caught Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet on television recently and I just couldn't follow the story, there was so much dancing. Absolutely crowded out with all these steps. And I mean - Romeo and Juliet? I know this piece, and I can't follow what's happening. I found myself thinking: 'Hang on - what's this really about?' And it's not about how many turns Romeo can fit into the music. Or how high he can jump.''

HE ADDS: ''None of that matters if he doesn't make you believe he's Romeo, or doesn't make you care about what happens to him. He might as well be doing class, in front of a bare wall. I just wanted to turn it off. It annoys me. It's such a waste of time. And it's what I'd change most about ballet, and not just in this country. It's becoming the same problem everywhere.''

This lack of direct emotional impact in the mainstream classics helps to explain why he - and the audiences who piled into see Swan Lake - found Matthew Bourne's updated retelling of the story, using all-male swans, so affecting. He vividly recalls the opening night. ''It was fascinating. And so different. The atmosphere really was electric. You could feel the buzz, almost touch it. I never, ever felt that with a ballet audience. It was unbelievable. So much so I almost fell over on my first entrance! Suddenly I was so aware of this expectation, anticipation . . . I felt I had to do something. (He breaks off, and laughs.) And so I tried too hard on that first entrance. I over-stepped and almost fell over. But this was something I've never experienced before in a dance audience. Yes, I think it was some kind of hunger. Just the most unexpected, wonderful response.''

If anything, it affirmed Adam in his belief that there was life - bolder, better, and more challenging life - beyond the Royal Ballet. He's forthright, without being snide or bitchy, about a system that seemed to rely on keeping everyone in their place and grateful for being there. ''From the age of about 10 onwards you're encouraged to feel grateful for everything you get. As if you were a child. And if you go on just remaining grateful, you'll never have the confidence to push yourself to new limits - or to take responsibility for your own choices. I was different, am different. Because I never saw myself as a classical dancer in the first place. It was just a path I took - and did rather well in. But there were always lots of others things I wanted to do.''

Among those other things is choreography. And already, in between his own rehearsals as Hoffmann, he's busy rehearsing members of Scottish Ballet in a new short work that he's making for their Cool Classics summer tour. Called Just Scratchin' The Surface it uses jazz classics by Charlie Mingus, Duke Ellington, and other greats and features a set design by the award-winning Lez Brotherston. Actually, if you dig gently into Adam's past - at 26 he's packed a great deal in - you'll discover he won a couple of awards for early choreographic attempts. Moreover, last year he choreographed a well-received duet as part of an Images of Dance programme - ''I have never been so nervous watching anything in my life,'' he says. ''I could hardly bare to look at the stage. But the students did it really brilliantly and it seemed to go down well. So . . .''

So choreography is now being fitted into a hectic freelance career that sees him returning to his swan feathers 'n' leathers when Swan Lake hits Broadway later this year. Meanwhile, Scottish audiences can see him in Tales of Hoffmann, which opens at Glasgow's Theatre Royal on Thursday. All requests for trouser-licking to the wardrobe please - though a volunteer hand with the ironing might be more appreciated there!