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Bournonville Festival Reviews

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Eva Kistrup will be writing regularly for DanceView Times about the Festival.

Her first piece is in today.

Opening Night

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Eva Kistrup's review of the Bournonville Festival's second night on DanceView Times.

"Napoli"

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Fascinating how very differently Eva Kistrup and Tobi Tobias saw the opening night performances.

Each viewer's distinct history, expectation, and eye seem to contribute as much to the impression we go home with as do the dancers, designers, directors and choreographers.

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Eva Kistrup's review of the third night of the Bournonville Festival ("La Ventana" and "La Sylphide") is up on DanceView Times:

"La Ventana," "La Sylphide"

Bournonville's "La Sylphide", the copy that survived the original French Romantic ballet about the young man who leaves his mortal fiancée to dance with his dreams in the forest, is to the Danish ballet scene what Hamlet is to Royal Shakespeare Company. The leading roles can be interpreted in hundred different ways, and each interpretation as valid as the other. In recent years we have seen, James the poet (Flemming Ryberg); James the proud man, bought down by passion and revenge (Arne Villumsen); the innocent farmer boy (Lloyd Riggins) etc. And for the Sylph, the possible range is equally broad, The Innocent Waif (Lis Jeppesen), The Ice Queen (Mette Hønningen): The Fairy (Mette-Ida Kirk), The sweet girl, (Rose Gad), The Femme Fatal (Silja Schandorff), the creature in Love (Christina Olsson). Each James and Sylph will find their own interpretation. The drama can be intensified by how you mix the Jameses and the sylphs. You can have anything from two soft interpretations together to two strong wills against each other. In my experience the soft/hard or hard/hard combination gives the most effective and dramatic performances. Both Gudrun Bojesen as the Sylph and Thomas Lund as James are relying on the softer approach. It is a sweet girly Sylph paired with a quiet burdened James, who is almost brought to the forest against his will and who nearly asks Effy to save him, before he is reluctantly drawn away. The strength of this couple is very much in their dancing especially in the second act divertissement. Bojesen and Lund are such experienced Bournonville dancers that they can handle any phase and each movement is carefully presented. I saw a stage rehearsal when Hübbe was working on the piece with Bojesen and Lund, and he taught them how to use light and shadow in their dancing and through them to syncopate their movement in the first act walk downstage. The result is never a dull moment, never a phase underused and no monotony in the dancing. Lund's ability to jump and present jump sequences were especially fine tonight and everything was landed precisely. He could not have wished for a finer performance.

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Eva Kistrup's review of the fourth night of the Bournonville Festival -- "Abdallah" -- on DanceView Times:

"Abdallah"

Morten Eggert is a sturdy demi-caractère dancer with a fine technique, dramatic flair and few opportunities to show them in the current repertoire. Like Thomas Lund he is little catered for outside Bournonville and instead of moving forward he is standing still career wise. He cut a fine figure as Abdallah without turning him into the wimpy fool. American Amy Watson has had many opportunities over the last seasons. A striking but somewhat imprecise dancer, she is constantly used in a broad repertoire. As Irma she may lack the delicacy and lightness that is Gudrun Bojesen's main attraction in the part, but Watson is a skilled actress and made her character vibrant and alive. Haley Henderson must be the tallest female dancer in the company. She danced cleanly without hinting at any personality. In the supporting roles, Diana Cuni, a small dancer who covers an enormous amount of space, showed why she could have been an obvious choice as Irma. Camilla Ruelykke Holst, who has hardly had a featured part before this week, showed promise in two different roles, and Peter Bo Bendixen used his charisma for the part of Sheik Ismael, the fleeing ruler who is helped to safety by Abdallah and grants him a magic candlestick for thanks.

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Tobi Tobias reviews La Sylphide and La Ventana in her Arts Journal blog.

Both Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund have matured in the roles of the Sylphide and James. Bojesen has, as was inevitable, left the dewy innocence of her early career behind her. Now more womanly, she’s positively incandescent, and her Sylphide tempts James away from his bourgeois existence into the ecstatic unknown more as a dangerous siren than as an ethereal spirit. Lund, whose technique, like Bojesen’s, is surer than ever, has boldly continued down the path of spontaneity and sincerity in his acting. He doesn’t simply believe in his role; he is James—lost in dreams, perpetually confused as they begin to materialize, and finally spurred to the decisive action that will be his tragic undoing. One of the most shocking and novel effects between Lund’s James and Bojesen’s Sylphide comes when, frustrated by her luring him on while refusing to let him touch her—that is, possess her—he forcibly binds her to him with the scarf the witch has poisoned, covers her bosom with kisses, and thus destroys her. The action, which looks like a rough embrace, registers as a rape.

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Copied over from today's Links:

The Bournonville Festival is reviewed in the Times by John Rockwell.

The company, with 27 foreigners (albeit foreigners schooled in the Bournonville style) out of 91 dancers, seems in transition from the upheavals of just a few years ago. It may lack any dominant star, although Thomas Lund comes close. But the general level of dancing does Bournonville, and Copenhagen, proud. Mr. Lund appeared in all three big ballets, as the amorous Geert in "Kermesse," which revealed his delightful comic skills; as the fisherman Gennaro in "Napoli"; and as the lovestruck James in "La Sylphide." He is an elegant, multitalented dancer and actor, the present-day epitome of the Bournonville style.

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A really lovely piece, I think, by Tobi Tobias about one of the Festival's exhibitions devoted to H.C. Andersen, a friend of Bournonville's who's also having a birthday this year.

The genius of this exhibition, experienced in situ, is that it takes a multitude of small objects that need to be looked at closely, one after another (a surefire recipe for tedium), and creates for them a world—one that reflects Andersen’s unique imagination—in which they can cohere.  Jan de Neergaard, a well-known designer for the stage, is its architect.  He has fashioned a theatrically dark, compact space and, working with panels pierced with shapes borrowed from Andersen’s fanciful paper-cuttings, has created a fence that separates the familiar reality the visitor is leaving from the intriguing, perhaps slightly dangerous fantasy he’s being tempted to enter.  Inside, this wary yet willing guest must thread through cunning half-secret curving passageways, his orientation pleasantly dislocated by a crazy-quilt patterned floor, some of its segments mirrored. Everywhere, the mysterious gloom is illuminated by pinpoint lights that allow him to discover the exhibition’s wonders.  At the center of this space lies an improvised theater—an oval with a dozen chairs visitors can shift at whim—where, onscreen, a wise professor with the kindliest voice in the world (think of a grandmother with a Ph.D.) narrates (alas, only in Danish) the marvelous tale of Andersen’s life and achievement.  As a whole, this inspired environment suggests a child’s playhouse, where, without forsaking a fragile tether to reality, dreams and illusions may be granted full sway.

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Eva Kistrup's review of Wednesday night's performance of "Far From Denmark" and "Konservatoriet" is now up on DanceView Times.

Mads Blangstrup and Marie Pierre Greve have over these last seasons established themselves as an almost unbeaten pairing in romantic ballet. They were great in Ratmansky's "Anna Karanina" and Robbins' "In the Night." As Wilhelm, Blangstrup uses his dramatic skill and his ability to perform ambiguity. It is not an easy part. The fiancée is never shown, there is little dancing. Yet he managed to convey his character by his ability to use his body to express his feeling and turmoil. Rosita is often performed as a scheming stupid girl, but Greve managed to give her depth and convey the image of a girl totally in love and therefore sad and disappointed when Wilhelm finally acknowledges his betrothed state. Surrounding the couple we can enjoy the spectacle of a party at sea and some fine cameos, especially the good dancing of Diana Cuni as Poul, the young boy at sea, and Jean-Lucien Massot as Don Alvar, tight as a wire of jealousy. This is what Bournonville is all about. You can find a strong human story in almost all his ballets, and it can be bought out by good direction (Anne Holm-Jensen, Frank Andersen and Flemming Ryberg).

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[copied over from today's Links]

Two more reviews of the Bournonville Festival:

  • John Rockwell in the Times
    The performances by the Royal Danish Ballet were predictably lovely, and their appeal on one level fairly transparent: consummately elegant yet seemingly simple dancing, a complex technique enlisted to produce an illusion of naturalness, a charming young company proving that the Bournonville tradition is in good hands in the person of Frank Andersen, its once and current artistic director. (He was forced out in 1995 and rehired in 2002.)
    One reason for the current good state of Bournonville performance in Denmark is the encouragement the company and its dancers feel when they are admired by foreigners. "I think we have gotten much more into the details because of all the interest from the outside," said Thomas Lund in the festival's daily journal; on the basis of his festival performances, Mr. Lund counts as today's premier exponent of Bournonville style.

  • Tobi Tobias in her blog
    While the Bournonville Festival is dedicated to presenting the complete extant repertory choreographed by the master, with Abdallah the Royal Danish Ballet has also made room for some faux-Bournonville.
    This ballet does not claim to be part of what the Danes call “the living tradition”—works that have been passed down in an unbroken line from generation to generation of RDB artists.  Choreographed in 1855, Abdallah was decidedly not a hit with either the critics or the public, and by 1858 it was off the boards.  Apparently, viewers thought it contained too much pure dancing—ironically the very element to which today’s step-hungry public is perfectly willing to sacrifice the balancing element of mime.

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Eva Kistrup reviews on The King's Volunteers on Amager" and "La Sylphide"" DanceView Times:

Yesterday Mads Blangstrup as Wilhelm in "Far from Denmark" flirted with disaster and came close to dropping his fiancée for an exotic beauty. Tonight as James in "La Sylphide" he went over the edge. The depth and the despair that were only hinted at in the lighter piece came full front tonight and demonstrated Blankstrup's gifts for big, passionate, dramatic dance acting. Tonight he was also spot on in his dancing, strong, elegant and high-flying. Acting and dancing on such a high level is a joy to watch.

Blangstrup's interpretation of the role differs totally from Thomas Lund's. There is no reason to discus which is the better James, because it is part of the allure of "La Sylphide" that you can interpret the roles very differently. Blangstrup's interpretation links backs all the way to Henning Kronstam's over Arne Villumsen's and Nicolaj Hübbes version's. It is easy to say that Blangstrup, with his height and striking appearance, has been given a lot, but it is the details and the total absorption of the character that marks this as a truly great James.

It is great to see the confidence boost that this festival has given the Royal Danish Ballets and it brings the best out in all the dancers. I do not think that I have seen either Jette Buchwald as Madge, Marie Pierre Greve as First Sylph or Morten Eggert as Gurn better than tonight.

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I don’t understand Eva Kistrup’s criticism of Cavallo. Last evening I sat next to an elder German balletomane who, with tears in his eyes, told me that she is the most touching sylph he has seen so far … and he has seen La Sylphide many times at the RDB and around the world! I too couldn’t help shedding a tear – and I am not the sentimental type! - during her death scene, especially when she goes blind.

Well, that just shows that opinions are diverse and indeed subjective. So dear audience, there is no reason to think that the opinions of the self-proclaimed critics and experts are better and more objective than yours. The reason why I write this now is that I have spoken with some foreigners during this festival who have enjoyed - notably foreign – dancers and then got confused by hearing these dancers being pulled to pieces by Danes. They get insecure and begin to doubt there initial intuition. I just hate when so-called experts ruin people’s joy of going to the theatre. That’s maybe why ballet is regarded as an elitist art.

So let me just make something clear: no, the foreign dancers are not worse than the Danish dancers. Why else are so many of them getting soloist parts and being promoted instead of the Danes (and yes, there are still plenty of Danes in the company)? The Bournonville style is a difficult style but it’s not rocket science! Everybody with the talent and dedication can learn it (the Queen is quoted as saying after a performance that Nina Ananiashvili was one the best sylphs she had ever seen). I think in order to understand the Danes’ unfounded criticism of foreign dancers, one has to be aware of the fact that the Danes are the most xenophobic people in Europe (as documented twice in reports from the European Union) who can’t stand seeing foreigners being successful. So dear foreign guests, bear that in mind the next time you have your positive theatre experience ruined by a grumpy Dane. And please keep coming back to the RDB.

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Dear autodidicte,

When I review Caroline Cavallo as the sylph I view her on the basic of having seen allmost all interpreters of the parts since 1978. and a few earlier Sylphs on video, It is natural that my response will differ from a viewer, who do not have the same experience. Your German balletomane may rightly feel that Cavallo is better than Bojesen or the other Sylphs he has seen. I am certain that I did not write that Cavallo is a bad Sylph. What I write is that I wish that she would try a more definitive interpretation rather than staying in the middle of the spectre and that she could consider more variation in the phrasing (the same way Nicolaj Hubbe suggested to Gudrun Bojesen to receive a more dramatic impact) . When I am sorry that Schandorffs Sylph is not included in the festival, it had to do with the quality of her Sylph and the good dramatic match with Blangstrups James, not with the fact that she is Danish. The question is not whether a dancer is Danish or Foreign but whether the dancer understands and can convey the style and acting needed for Bournonville. Sorella Englund, Lloyd Riggins and indeed Caroline Cavallo are prime examples of foreign dancers who are great Bournonville dancers. I myself loves Caroline Cavallos take on her Napoli 3 act variation. I expects great things from Dawid Kapinsky and others of the never intake. You see Marie Pierre Greve doing the most touching Rosita I have ever seen. But RDB is build on a model where dancers spend the whole career span from child to charecter dancer in the company. Making the company more foreign it can change the company into a more traditional company with lot of staff turnover and it is equally important that the dancers have the same schooling. ABT is to me the bad epytome of a company where no two dancers seems to be from the same scholl. The truly great companies like Kirov, Paris Opera Ballet, RDB and NYCB have this close school/company link and I would be sorry to see that go. On the other hand it looks likes RDB has cracked the code of integrating the foreign dancers, but stability is needed staffwise .

Living in Copenhagen present the priviledge of seing all casts and it is clear that casting the festival has been a series of difficult choices. It looks like that Frank Andersen has opted for the democratic solution and giving everybody (save Kenneth Greve) at least one meaty part. The flipsite is of course that certain ballets are not performed by the strongest casts. La Conservatorie misses the Lund/Bojesen magic. I could have wished for everyone to see Mads Blangstrups Gennaro.The Hesselkilde celebration meant no Ryberg in two parts and so on. Maybe people take the roles as Bournonville ambassadors too seriusly if they tell a guest that there are other great interpretations not shown this week, but I think if it is done it is done from love of the company. It may also be need to clarify certain aspects for our guests. Looking at the festival, Kenneth Greve comes up as the servant to Thomas Lunds master. That is certainly not the picture of the last seasons.

You are perfectly right. No one should obstain from their own view and differ to any reviewer. Unlike the audience the reviewer should be able to analyse and argument their conclusions. It is not a question whether you like so and so dancer, but why you like them. How does their interpretation and skills influence the ballet. One thing I have learn during my tenure as a balletomane is that casting is one of th key - if not the key - ingridience in making a ballet work and shine. Therefore casting is an important issue to follow and discus.

And yes the Queen was absolutely right Nina A is a great sylph and likewise have other foreign dancers shown talents for Bournonville. But as this week has shown us Bournonville is a long commitment

I don’t understand Eva Kistrup’s criticism of Cavallo. Last evening I sat next to an elder German balletomane who, with tears in his eyes, told me that she is the most touching sylph he has seen so far … and he has seen La Sylphide many times at the RDB and around the world! I too couldn’t help shedding a tear – and I am not the sentimental type! - during her death scene, especially when she goes blind.

Well, that just shows that opinions are diverse and indeed subjective. So dear audience, there is no reason to think that the opinions of the self-proclaimed critics and experts are better and more objective than yours. The reason why I write this now is that I have spoken with some foreigners during this festival who have enjoyed - notably foreign – dancers and then got confused by hearing these dancers being pulled to pieces by Danes. They get insecure and begin to doubt there initial intuition. I just hate when so-called experts ruin people’s joy of going to the theatre. That’s maybe why ballet is regarded as an elitist art.

So let me just make something clear: no, the foreign dancers are not worse than the Danish dancers. Why else are so many of them getting soloist parts and being promoted instead of the Danes (and yes, there are still plenty of Danes in the company)? The Bournonville style is a difficult style but it’s not rocket science! Everybody with the talent and dedication can learn it (the Queen is quoted as saying after a performance that Nina Ananiashvili was one the best sylphs she had ever seen). I think in order to understand the Danes’ unfounded criticism of foreign dancers, one has to be aware of the fact that the Danes are the most xenophobic people in Europe (as documented twice in reports from the European Union) who can’t stand seeing foreigners being successful. So dear foreign guests, bear that in mind the next time you have your positive theatre experience ruined by a grumpy Dane. And please keep coming back to the RDB.

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Far From Denmark, at the Bournonville Festival, is reviewed by Tobi Tobias in her blog.

My own main complaint about the present production is that it looks as if the company has lost confidence in the ballet.  The dancers don’t seem to inhabit their characters, to know—or to be interested in—who they are.  (Mads Blangstrup is certainly the right Romantic type for Wilhelm, but he doesn’t seem to have invested enough imagination or energy in the role.)  What’s more, there hasn’t been much perspicacity in the casting.  (Marie-Pierre Greve makes a pretty Rosita but not an alluring one.)  The practice of using senior members of the company to add an important social dimension and a gracious dignity to the shipboard party has been abandoned.  (The presence of the elders may now be thought a minor concern, yet I’ll never forget Lilian Jensen, playing one of these roles in her sixties, dancing gravely and just “being there.”)

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I think in order to understand the Danes’ unfounded criticism of foreign dancers, one has to be aware of the fact that the Danes are the most xenophobic people in Europe (as documented twice in reports from the European Union) who can’t stand seeing foreigners being successful.

I wonder what control data the EU used in order to establish that Danes "can't stand seeing foreigners being successful." There are enough historical and "scientific" texts from the past that extol the intrinsic inferiority or superiority of one group over the other, and, in retrospect, we don't think too highly of them.

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Eva Kistrup's review of Friday's performance of "A Folk Tale" at the Bournonville Festival is now up on DanceView Times.

"A Folk Tale"

Even though tonight's performance was graced by fine performances by Kenneth Greve as the haunted nobleman, Junker Ove; Tina Højlund as his temperamental fiancée Birthe, who is really a troll; Gudrun Bojesen as the heroine Hilda, the human child raised among trolls; and Peter Bo Bendixen and Lis Jeppesen as the troll brothers, Diderik and Viderik, it is difficult to overlook the problems in the staging, which is done with a very large brush. When Frank Andersen and Anne Marie Vessel talk about Bournonville today, they come across as knowing and considerate Bournonville experts. They may indeed have deepened their skills and knowledge in the last 14 year. But the production still resembles their original and cannot not really be saved even by good individual performances.

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Tobi Tobias reviews the a demonstration of the Bournonville Schools in her Arts Journal blog.

Some of the most wondrous dancing in the Bournonville Festival came not from the ballet-by-ballet excursion through the master’s extant works on the Royal Theatre’s capacious, ornate Old Stage, but from a half dozen 45-minute sessions on the stark, small Stærekassen stage—one each for the six Bournonville Schools.  These set classes formed the backbone of the Danish dancers’ training from the end of the nineteenth century through the first three decades of the twentieth and are still revered (and used) as a lexicon of the Bournonville style.

The classes, named for the days of the week and originally danced on the corresponding day (if we’re doing Wednesday Class, it must be Wednesday), were the work of Hans Beck, who led the Royal Danish Ballet from 1894 to 1915.  Fearing that the Bournonville legacy might be lost, he canvassed the older dancers’ personal memories of Bournonville’s teaching.  The Danes being, until our forget-everything times, compulsive recorders, many of the elders had made written notes of enchaînements they had particularly admired or—despite their fiendish intricacy—enjoyed doing.  These eventually came to be accompanied by tunes that, though mostly lowbrow in quality, had an undeniable dansant quality.  Augmenting this material with brief passages from the ballets, Beck made his compilations, which were then passed down, dancer to dancer, in the manner of oral literary tradition.  In 1979, the late Kirsten Ralov, after much consultation with the dancers of her own generation and the preceding one, gave the classes their first published form—the choreography recorded in words as well as formal dance notation, plus the accompanying scores.

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Eva Kistrup reviews the closing night Gala in Danceview Times:

The Bournonville week ended with fireworks outside the theatre and fireworks on stage. The programme was a recap of the Festival, with a few miniatures and pas de deux not shown earlier this week. And in tune with the democratic casting of the week, the second casts were put in to action in "Kermesse," "Kings Volunteers" and "Napoli." As the gala was transmitted on Danish television it is possible to document the week but some of the casts put on television were not as sharp and poignant as the earlier shown alternatives. In the second casts, we actually also got more of the foreign born dancers than during the weeks as the native born stars were used primarily in the second segments, solos and pas de deux.

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Ah, those "xenophobic Danes" :) (referring to a prior post).

The weekly email from the Royal Danish Embassy covered the Festival this way. The item is posted in its entirety:

Denmark Celebrates Bournonville’s 200th Birthday

This past week the famous American ballet critic John Rockwell wrote no less than two glowing articles about the Bournonville Festival taking place in Copenhagen these days. You can read the reviews on www.nyt.com. For almost fifty years the great 19th century Danish dancer and choreographer, August Bournonville (1805-1879), led the ballet at Copenhagen's Royal Theatre with a tight rein, coaxing it into a blossoming period and providing the Danish repertory with a cachet which has stood the test of time and become an integral part of Denmark's literary and musical heritage, although it was originally based on a French model. With international experience in choreography, hard-working, impulsive, multi-talented, and ambitious, Bournonville became the embodiment, so to speak, of the Danish "Golden Age", counting poets and artists such as Hans Christian Andersen and Bertel Thorvaldsen among his contemporaries and personal friends. Assembling a fine staff, he built up a repertory of more than fifty ballets, of which twelve ballets and minor divertissements have survived to this day. Moreover, he carefully reorganized the ballet-school forming such solid foundations that his spirit and art still dominates the Royal Danish Ballet more than a century after his death. This is probably the greatest of his achievements. Read more about the festival at Bournonville.com

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About La Sylphide: the English language version of the programme describes Anna as 'a tenant' and James as her son (and Effie as her niece). I completely disagree about the tartans - I thought James's much the chicest and felt seriously sorry for Effie marrying Gurn and having to spend the rest of her life dressed in mustard!

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Anna is usually "Anna Reuben" [with James as her son, as Jane notes]. Which means that James is the only ballet hero iin the extant 19th century repertory with a last name!

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Tobi Tobias reviews Konservatoriet in her Artsjournal blog.

The anecdotal sections of Konservatoriet were, needless to say, dependent on the performers’ mime skills.  The stand-out here was Paul-Erik Hesselkilde in the role of the Inspector.  As is typical of the RDB’s veteran mimes, Hesselkilde takes a large measure of responsibility for building his character, working of course from the basics the choreographer has outlined.  His Inspector is an aging, self-important, rather stupid fellow, decidedly short on human sympathy.  He’s rudely ungrateful to the faithful aging housekeeper he’d once promised to marry and curtly dismisses poor little Fanny because she can’t pay for lessons.  Yet, as often happens with potential bad guys in Danish ballet, he turns out to be only foolish and, actually, rather sweet.  Hesselkilde is got up to look physically unprepossessing, rather Tweedledum/Tweedledee-ish, and he has devised a complementary fumbling manner for the Inspector that belies the character’s superficial bluster.  The whole thing is done with a very quiet sense of humor.  This performance has absolutely nothing show-offy about it.  It simply grows on you until you come to sympathize with the character, who seems to have slipped out of a novel by Trollope.

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