Jane Simpson

RDB's new Giselle

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The Royal Danish Ballet's first premiere of the season opens next week: a new production of Giselle, by Nikolaj Hubbe and Sorella Englund. Hubbe sees it as a tribute to the company's women, and especially to Silja Schandorff, in her last season before she reaches retirement age. Casting has yet to be announced (I wish they'd do it a bit sooner!) but Schandorff will be dancing with Nehemiah Kish and presumably they will get the first night - a nice, if testing, introduction to the company for Kish.

I've never seen the Danes do Giselle before - does anyone remember earlier productions?

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all i've seen is a fascinating film, about which alexandra can doubtless say more, of Henning Kronstam's rehearsing his production for a danish tv documentary - Heidi Ryom and Lloyd Riggins dance the leads. i spoke casually and briefly w/ Hubbe about the upcoming production and he seemed to indicate that his staging would be based on Kronstam's but i may have misunderstood him; the conversation was brief and in passing during the intermission of Woetzel's NYCB farewell perf.

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all i've seen is a fascinating film, about which alexandra can doubtless say more, of Henning Kronstam's rehearsing his production for a danish tv documentary - Heidi Ryom and Lloyd Riggins dance the leads. i spoke casually and briefly w/ Hubbe about the upcoming production and he seemed to indicate that his staging would be based on Kronstam's but i may have misunderstood him; the conversation was brief and in passing during the intermission of Woetzel's NYCB farewell perf.

That's definitely one of the best documentary films about Giselle ever.

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It is a good film -- by Anne Wivel, called "Of Dreams and Discipline." It's fanciful -- it takes awhile to get used to seeing the Wilis dancing during the rehearsals for Act I, but Wivel is making the point that this is what they are IMAGINING. It's also very interesting to see Riggins so young (19), and the difference between Ryom in rehearsal and in performance. My students always have doubts about her until they see her on stage. Kronstam was a very noted coach and the film shows why.

I wrote a very long piece about the Danes for Ballet Review in 1990 that goes into more detail about this. There have been several productions of "Giselle" in post-Bournonville Denmark. (There was one in teh 19th century, when Bournovnille was out of town, but he hated the ballet and threw it out when he came back. I was told he didn't like it because the hero lied, and of course you can't have a hero who lies.)

I've only seen Kronstam's version, but he built on the earlier ones (a Danish tradition). The first was in 1948, and based on an older Russian tradition through Pavlova's company. There was another one in the 60s, but I don't remember who staged it. Kronstam brought in Erik Bruhn to do a production in the late 1970s and he made two changes that have been copied by others. The most important was casting the same ballerina as Bathilde and Myrthe. I balked at this one until Mette-Ida Kirk (who was wonderful in both roles) told me that it helped her as a dancer, because as Myrthe, she already had a relationship with Albrecht and she could build her characterization on that. (Bruhn's idea was that the second act is a dream. It was the fashion in the '60s and '70s.) The other change, which I hope Hubbe will keep, is making Albrecht's little house that of his old nanny and her husband. She's retired back to her village, and it gives him an excuse to visit the village (and triples the adult population of the village.) Kronstam changed the grand pas classique of the Wilis in Act 2 to the Kirov staging (he had a Russian balletmistress teach it to the company.) What Kronstam brought to it was his gift for inspiring the dancers and making them think they were participating in something brand new. That "Giselle" was a great drama. It boiled. Hubbe danced Albrecht in that production (with Lis Jeppesen) and it will be interesting to see what he brings to it.

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The casts for the first three performances have now been announced:

Silja Schandorff/Nehemiah Kish/Amy Watson

Gudrun Bojesen/Mads Blangstrup/Tina Hojlund

Yao Wei/Ulrik Birkkjaer/Kizzie Howard

I thought Yao Wei would get Giselle but Birkkjaer as Albrecht is more of a surprise - it's a big opportunity for him. (That pairing also does the Peasant pas de deux on the first night). The first night won't be Kish's debut with the company, as I implied above, as he's also cast in the re-run of the highly successful Kylian programme, which opened the season last night.

The casting also lists an 'old couple' who could be the nanny and her husband, as described by Alexandra above.

Full details

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Many of us are familiar with DVD of the extraordinary "La Sylphide" that starred Huebbe, Jeppesen, and Englund --esp since Englund's Madge is so fascinating and has generated so much comment. Well, that production was directed by Kronstam. To get an idea of what he may have done to shape the rhythm and detail of THAT production, hte best guess one could get might be to look at how he directed Ryom and Lund in this Giselle film. It is one of hte most interesting documents about staging a great ballet that I have ever seen. Kronstam's insights go SO deep, they are the product of such strenuous thought and feeling, and they are so consistent.

The casts for the first three performances have now been announced:

Silja Schandorff/Nehemiah Kish/Amy Watson

Gudrun Bojesen/Mads Blangstrup/Tina Hojlund

Yao Wei/Ulrik Birkkjaer/Kizzie Howard

I thought Yao Wei would get Giselle but Birkkjaer as Albrecht is more of a surprise - it's a big opportunity for him. (That pairing also does the Peasant pas de deux on the first night). The first night won't be Kish's debut with the company, as I implied above, as he's also cast in the re-run of the highly successful Kylian programme, which opened the season last night.

The casting also lists an 'old couple' who could be the nanny and her husband, as described by Alexandra above.

Full details

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Hi a few comments on Hübbes Giselle.

Hübbe version is not that close to the Kronstam version, but Kronstams versions was to much a patch on Bruhns in major areas, like the Bathilde/Myrtha doubling. In comparison Hübbe's is a much more original work, though staying within the limits of tradition.

Yao Wei and Ulrik Birkkjær did dance as well as could be expected and acted with substantiaily less conviction, but what can you expects from a dancer who had never had a dramatic role? I will write another review for Danceviewtimes, where I will discus the dilemma of creating the best performances and try to develop company and dancers at the same time, which is Hübbe's major challenge.

I will post tomorrow.

Effy (Eva Kistrup)

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Thank you Effy. I look forward to reading more of you, especially on the original aspects of Hubbe's production. I thought he was more returning to a tradition than leaving one, but you indicated in your review that there was a slightly different twist to the ending. (The Bathilde/Myrtha doubling is actually Igor Youskevitch's. Bruhn got it from him. I have to say I'm glad to hear it's gone :) )

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David Amzallag, who is building up an extensive archive of RDB photographs, has added a portfolio of pictures of Gudrun Bojesen and Mads Blangstrup in Giselle. I think the ones of the second act in particular are very simple but beautiful.

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Thank you, Jane, for posting those photos. I agree with you: the Act II black-and-whites are stunning in their simplicity and purity, while giving you the sense that these are real flesh-and-blood people -- artists -- dancing.

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SOme wonderful photos --

Blangstrup's entrechats-sixe is amazing in its monumental simplicity, once in a lifetime photograph -- everything is implicit in that one moment...

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