Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A motley but enjoyable program from the Royal Danish Ballet: June 14, 2011

Last night I went to see the Royal Danish Ballet perform a mixed bill on their opening night at Lincoln Center. 

The good news first:  this is one talented and well conditioned group of dancers. 

The final piece, Act III from their full-length, restored production of Bournonville’s Napoli was delightfully joyous, and the set was absolutely gorgeous.  I had seen some of this choreography back at the company’s March preview at the Guggenheim’s Works & Process series, and it definitely improved on the larger stage.  Without knowing the full story I felt a little lost, but the pas de six and solos were first rate even so.  In particular, the ballerina in the yellow, which I am 99% sure was principal Gudrun Bojesen, was stellar. 

I had also seen excerpts from two of last night’s other selections: Jorma Elo’s Lost on Slow, and Bournonville Variations, created by Thomas Lund and Nikolaj Hübbe using daily classroom steps from the Bournonville School.  Lost on Slow, set to music by Vivaldi for three couples, isn’t a bad piece. But it isn’t a really good piece either.  The smoke effects and lighting design were interesting, but the men’s shiny satin and embellished costumes were in an odd selection of colors, ill-fitting and distracting.  Most of the piece I was wondering what it would look like if the women were wearing, say, unembellished, unfrilly carmine red tutus and the men were in black pants and simple white or grey t-shirts. I think it would have let the dancers shine through more and made the whole experience more modern and interesting.  That being said, it was very well danced by J’aime Crandall, Alba Nadal, Amy Watson, Jean-Luc Massot, Fernando Mora, and the standout for me, Tim Matiakis.  Matiakis looked to be a shorter dancer, but with tons of presence and comparatively long and graceful arms (the opposite aesthetic from Ivan Vasiliev in Saturday’s The Bright Stream).

As for Bournonville Variations, I knew the back-story of the piece from Mr. Hübbe’s discussion in March, and so I approached it as an interesting exercise in choreography.  Using twelve men, Bournonville’s steps and patterns were immediately familiar to me even only having seen La Sylphide once a few years ago danced by ABT’s Cory Stearns.  Again I found the costumes a little distracting, but the repetitive, bouncy and quick flowing choreography was generally well executed and impressive for the sheer stamina required to get through this piece without seeming out of breath at all.  A few of the men had a few bobbles landing in fifth, but with all the jumping and turning and hopping going on I could hardly blame them. 

Now for the first piece of the evening, Flemming Flindt’s 1964 The Lesson, based on a disturbing one-act play by Eugene Ionesco.  The Lesson appears to tell the story of a ballet master (Johan Kobborg) - who seems to be a cross between some sort of pedophile with mother issues on Law & Order: SVU and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho – who murders and possibly molests his young student (Alexandra Lo Sardo).  Most of the ballet takes place in front of the ballet master’s unpleasant spinsterish pianist (Mette Bødtcher), who does a little to try to help the girl but then helps the ballet master get rid of the body and prepare for his next student – clearly she’s been living with this pattern for some time.  Some of the choreography was interesting, but this ballet was about twice as long as it needed to be for the steps that were involved.  Until the violence really became clear, I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a ballet about sexual assault or something cute and relatively innocent. It was well acted by the three dancers, and I think, well danced.  However I found the whole thing so unpleasant that I’m still a little unnerved today.  While I really like ballets like Othello, Fall River Legend or Pillar of Fire, which are also disturbing in theme and music, The Lesson is not something I need to see again. What I need is to go to an extra performance of The Bright Stream tonight just to get it out of my head. The older women next to me, in fact, did not come back to their seats after the first intermission.

One other thing I noticed in all four ballets on last night’s program is that either the choreography or the Bournonville training made the dancers seem to stop and start continually in the choreography, rather than flow from one phrase to the next in the way I’m used to seeing from ABT or Russian companies.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the full length Napoli they performed at the Kennedy Center (apparently the set doesn’t fit in the David Koch Theater) or La Sylphide, because I think that I would have enjoyed these wonderful dancers much more in those contexts.  I hope they come back to the US soon so I can see more.

On a side note, I saw the dashing Nikolaj Hübbe chatting with Kevin McKenzie during intermission.  The full videos of his comments and the excerpts at Works & Process are really worth watching – what a charismatic and thoughtful dancer/director Mr. Hübbe is.

UPDATE: Here's a slideshow from the NY Times of last night's program: 

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