Jane Simpson

RDB American Tour 2011

136 posts in this topic

The Bournonville jump looks as if the man has been caught in a binoculars or telephoto lens – foreshortened or stalling – but it's always exhuberant and charming, and the turns are gracefully banked, like skateboarding around a curve. The movements do lack something of the descriptive quality or ultimate tragedy of Petipa or Balanchine – but Bournonville seems to have an overall more optimistic view of life. Even "La Sylphide" produces a happy marriage and some lovely dances between James and his muse before the scarf incident. And I'll also say that Sorella Englund was a great character performer, magnificiently flinging the gold coins away that James tries to buy his way out of his troubles with.

I enjoyed "the Lesson" a lot despite myself (which I saw in Berkeley, not New York). It seems to be of the same type or vintage as Robbins "Concert" or "Afternoon of a Faun" – and probably dated as some of Ionesco's other works may be, but the fact that it was so well preserved and brilliant acted made it pretty amazing theater. And I was perhaps swayed by Nikolaj Hubbe's talk where he pointed up the considerable skills "the Lesson" required, that each actor approached it differently, and that holding onto yourself, your sanity, toward the end is difficult. He borrowed a term from Uta Hagen to characterize this. (You could see why he is such a charismatic teacher himself.)

The cast I saw were Maria Bernholdt, Alexandra Lo Sardo and Mads Blangstrup. It was the first time they were doing it – and with hardly any dress rehearsal because of problems getting the sets to fit on the Zellerbach stage – so it had the intensity of an improvised performance. Mads Blangstrup was particularly brilliant as the ballet master, his hair slicked down and his body compacted into a repressed and prim hour glass shape.

The Nordic Choreographers night I also enjoyed a lot – the sweet and the severe – everything seemed to fit well into the program. Shelby Elsbree, Tim Matiakis were great to watch, as was the shy magic of Alban Lendorf in "Les Lutins," and in "Salute" Julien Roman - who for a brief unsettling moment during bows almost stepped off the apron of the stage into black nothingness, then pulled himself back - put in a beautifully detailed and charming performance.

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The Bournonville grand jete is one of my favorite steps to fuss over, and it's really unfortunate that it's not done in the way I like to see it done with most companies. For me, the heart of the step is the generosity of the arms: I like when the arms open as if to offer flowers or a gift to the audience, instead of snapping open and hitting pretty quickly its open position in second. The motion of the arms don't end when the dancer is at the apex of his or her jump, which is how most dancers do it. The gesture of continuous offering ends sometime around when the dancer lands, and is done in harmony with the plie of the landing.

If that's the middle and end of the step, the beginning is what sets up its ultimate effect. Fortunately, most ballet training does this correctly, but some (the Royal Ballet) emphasize it a bit more. As the dancer takes his preparatory steps before the big jump, the arms are in first in front, and his head looks away from the audience somewhere over his upstage elbow. As he jumps, the head turns towards the audience, but in an upwardish arc, instead of just turning from right to left, for example. The effect is to go from a line that includes the long line of the downstage side of the neck, to forming a line with the upstage side of the neck which then curves to continue the line with the back leg in attitude, and the head slightly tilted slightly towards the audience. There is a reaching quality to the end of the jump, too.

The overall effect is soft, sweet, and generous, unlike the really hard lines that many dancers make with this step.

This is a pretty poor description of it, but if you see Johan Kobborg do it, that's how I like it. There's a video on Youtube of Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru performing the Flower Festival of Genzano pas in a Mariinsky festial in 2003. Look at his opening jumps.

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I saw both RDB matinees this past weekend. I've never seen Napoli live, so that was nice. I liked the sets, but remember a video from earlier (and I assume the home stage?) with a much bigger bridge. I enjoyed the performance and dancers. Though overall I thought it was good, there were only two times I went "Ahh, there's the Bournonville (sp?)technique I remember. And then went "ahh" again to see it performed so easily and joyously.

I, too, loved the beautiful sets and lighting of La Sylphide and yes, the 3-D quality without a reliance on drops. Overall, the dancing was really fine in this. I thought Kupinsky's James had lovely clear technique in his variation in Act 1, if missing some of the ballon. I thought Staeger's Gurn had the height, but his turnout was not always there, which greatly surprised me and made me wonder if my 4th Ring seat (though exact center and towards the front) was distorting something (I know it was hard to judge ballon). Also noticed some dancers tilted the raised leg's foot up, others did not; which is the more correct?

Macauley mentioned in his review the Sylph's descent from the window via a "dark toe lock" to simulate her floating down. From what I saw, the Sylph did the arabesque on a rounded pad that looked to me kind of like the top of a round stool (about 8-9" in diameter) that then descended from window to floor. It was a nice effect,but its affect didn't make me believe she floated to the ground. (Unfortunately, I later changed my center seat for the 2nd act to sit with a friend--who was many rows in front but more to the side, and so missed much of the reverse ascents the Sylph made into the trees to fetch the nest and berries etc. :-(

I loved the big finale dance in Act 1 with the corps; just watching the patterns was fascinating. I wonder how much was based on actual Scottish or other folk dance moves? Everyone, even the small child, danced very very well. So precise, coordinated and consistent with each other--I caught many small glances between dancers, and rows, and groups as they circulated through the movements. Better than a drill team for precision, and much more graceful, with fun AND flair.

However, my main concern in both performances was the way the sylphs did arabesque penches. Every single time they would get about halfway or 3/4's down, and then drop their backs so there was a slight hitch before they came up into releve and moved forward. At first, I just thought someone's balance and lapsed slightly, but then when it happened every time, I began to wonder if it was a Bournonville technique issue? Does anyone know the answer to this? It really began to bother me becasue I was always taught the rising leg PUSHED the body forward, so the back was always held in tension with it; dropping the back broke everything: line, momentum, control, tension etc.etc.etc.

I was glad Madge was played by a woman. It makes a lot more sense regarding her possible motivation(s) and the overall plot.

Unlike the two women I overheard in the restroom state how they saw it years ago at ABT--Did they ever do it? I think not. I saw "The Lesson" several times previously when the original "Kings of Dance" performed it at the OCPAC and again at City Center. (Because they couldn't fit the set for Le "Jeune Homme et La Morte" at NYCC.) I thought the RDB's Tomas Lund was much more casual, 'loose', flowing in his movements than what I remembered of Johan Kobborg and Angel Corella (whom I saw do it twice each in both venues--filling in for injured Ethan Stiefel, and Tsiskaridze do it once.) A friend of mine described Lund as "creepy" but Angel as "scary". I know I thought AC much more powerful/forceful in his actions, while Kobborg seemed to follow the more subtle progression from innately inhibited to not that a BT poster above hoped for. I liked the girl (sorry don't have program in front of me, so not sure who danced.) She caught youth's earnest eagerness to please despite increasing doubts and misgivings, and then the ultimate desperation quite well, but I also remembered and missed Alina Cojocaru's precision in some of the steps. (BTW: in the KofD performances at CCtr, Bojesen performed the girl and was quite good, if a more mature presence than Cojocaru's sweet innocent.)

As always,JMHO of all above. I also saw ABT's "Coppelia" with AC/PH. All I will say now, is that, like most, I danced in Coppelia from a young age to older, and have many fond memories. And missed much of the dancing this time. The stage seemed very empty at times. More later.

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Unlike the two women I overheard in the restroom state how they saw it years ago at ABT--Did they ever do it?

ABT did it often in the late 60's-mid seventies. I recall Fracci, Kirkland and Makarova as The Sylph, though I'm sure I also saw others. And they revived it just a couple of years ago.

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re: ABT and LA SYLPHIDE - perhaps b/c they were early in my acquaintance w/ this work, but performances of ABT's SYLPHIDE by Toni Lander and Royes Fernandez, esp. the former, remain indelibly fixed in my mind.

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Unlike the two women I overheard in the restroom state how they saw it years ago at ABT--Did they ever do it?

ABT did it often in the late 60's-mid seventies. I recall Fracci, Kirkland and Makarova as The Sylph, though I'm sure I also saw others. And they revived it just a couple of years ago.

Martine Van Hamel also did the role.I did not see her but it was much admired

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Unlike the two women I overheard in the restroom state how they saw it years ago at ABT--Did they ever do it? I think not. I saw "The Lesson" several times previously when the original "Kings of Dance" performed it at the OCPAC and again at City Center.

ABT performed La Sylphide last year--I saw Natalia Osipova and Herman Cornejo in the lead roles. It is possible, though, that 4mrdncr was referring to "The Lesson" when asking if they had ever done it.

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I also attended the June 19th matinee. The Danes danced The Lesson and La Slyphide.

The Lesson is a disturbing, but very interesting ballet, a 20th century version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Red Shoes”. Thomas Lund’s ballet master is creepy right from the beginning of the class. Why doesn’t the student run out the door when she sees how “off” he is? Or maybe she’s so eager for the chance to learn ballet that she doesn’t want to see how odd the ballet master is. What is the pianist’s role in all this? Why does she enable the ballet master to continue his student killing spree? I also find the Nazi symbolism fascinating. The pianist is dressed like a matron in a SS concentration camp. Both the teacher and the pianist goose step as they carry the dead girl out of the studio. I would love to see this ballet again, and try to find answers to my questions. All the performers are wonderful – Thomas Lund as the ballet master, Ida Praetorius as the student and Gudrun Bojeson as the pianist.

The Royal Danish Ballet’s La Slyphide is a total delight. I found myself as lost in the mists of Scotland as the hero James. All the performers are perfect, both as actors and dancers. Their mime is the clearest and most precise I have ever seen. The Danes clearly show their mastery of petit allegro footwork, small jumping movements performed at a quick tempo. The whole company dances with incredible buoyancy and ease of movement.

Susanne Grinder’s Slyphide is sweet and mischievous, a child in her wants and desires. She seems to live in the air, floating across the stage with almost unbearable lightness. But the Royal Danish Ballet’s La Slyphide is a Bournonville ballet, and the male danseur is challenged as much if not more than the ballerina. Marcin Kupinski is a very strong James, but his ballon does not equal that of David Hallberg. I saw Hallberg dance James in American Ballet Theatre’s production of La Sylphide in 2009. Kupinski’s jumps are still first-rate and his landings are soft and plush. His leg beats are quick and crisp. Kupinski’s acting is also wonderful. He is the quintessential dreamer chasing after ideal love, and in the process losing both his love and his life.

As Gurn, Alexander Staeger’s ballon is amazing. His jumps are also clean and precise. Louise Ostegaard is very effective as Effie, James’ fiancée. As James’ mother, Eva Kloburg is natural and real. Mette Bodcher is an incredibly powerful and frightening Madge. She never overdoes it, which makes her portrayal even scarier.

The Royal Danish Ballet’s La Slyphide is a perfect production of a landmark ballet. The gorgeous score by Lovenskjold is played faultlessly by the New York City Ballet orchestra. I hope it does not take another 23 years for this fantastic ballet company to return to New York.

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Tobi Tobias has added a long review of the NY season to her blog. I'm very glad to see her praise for Gudrun Bojesen, who didn't get many opportunities on the tour:

"Bojesen, the RDB's finest example of classical dancing in the Bournonville style, is, quite simply, the most exquisite Sylphide I've ever seen."

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vipa, on 16 June 2011 - 09:07 PM, said:

-- no one does it like the Danes. The variations were delightful, and again the choreography - lovely & musical in between steps, beautifully shaped jumps, grand plies when you don't expect them. a turn into a jump that makes you gasp and smile because it is both lovely and unpredicted. One more thing I have to add. The RDB has Character Dancers in their roster. One of these women (I don't know who) won my heart. She did a little section with a child, but she enriched the act through out. When the corps was doing their predictable stuff, my eye wondered over to her. She'd be on the side interacting, hitting the tamborine, swaying to the music and being alive on stage. She was not the only one, but she was exemplary. This kind of stage craft can really make a difference.

Yes, especially

The variations were delightful, and again the choreography - lovely & musical in between steps, beautifully shaped jumps,

The men in Napoli's variations stood out from the rest of everything, finally seeing RDB live: They really are in the air in these marvelous black knickers with gold cummerbunds and little pocket epaulets that looked like tassels--yes, they did all these marvelously ornamental things while in the air, and I saw some other good dancing in 'La Sylphide' too, but I don't care that much about kilts, danced in or otherwise--just can't overlook them and have given it up. I infinitely preferred 'Napoli', even though everything Hans said was true, and I was fully aware of Ms. Grinder exquisite Sylphide, but it was the dancing in Napoli. I had liked the women in the DVD from years ago more, although they were very good too. But live, it was the guys and their amazing embellishments en l'air in 'Napoli'.

Hans said:

mostly very nice, but why not stick with the Fellini concept from Act 1? It goes from 1960's funeral (which the music doesn't support) to happy 1840's costumes/dancing in the space of two seconds, then we're in the 1840's through to the end until Gennaro and Teresina, still in breeches and tulle, show up on a motorcycle. Put the 3 acts together, and this must be one of the most bizarre, ill-conceived productions of any ballet, ever.

Don't I know it, and saw only Act III, that motorcycle looks so ridiculous after all the 'happy Dane' business you nearly pass out, was that supposed to be Mats Ek exoxied onto some Meissen or something? But one thing that maybe could be modernized is the dresses of the women, not such stiff petticoat-stiff, porcelain-figurine-looking things. I used to like them more than I did now. I preferred them to the kilts, though. I think 'La Sylphide' may definitely not be my favourite great ballet, even though I enjoyed it once.

Colleen Boresta said:

The gorgeous score by Lovenskjold is played faultlessly by the New York City Ballet orchestra. I hope it does not take another 23 years for this fantastic ballet company to return to New York.

This is good dance-music, much like Louis Horst's music for Graham. Nobody wants to hear any of it as stand-alone in a concert hall. But if it's well-played, then it's very nice. And I do beg to differ about the 'played faultlessly by the New York City Ballet Orchestra'. About the best I can say about them was that they were not as bad as usual, and got better by 'Napoli', which has music that is also pretty banal, but is more peppy, hoo hoo.

Vipa also said:

One of these women (I don't know who) won my heart. She did a little section with a child, but she enriched the act through out. When the corps was doing their predictable stuff, my eye wondered over to her.

I think I saw this too, and some of the children were all right, but there was this one huge bunch of couples, I think the whole corps was in plaid and kilts, like elderly non-dancer couples moving a little at a resort and calling it dancing, and in the middle were some 4 child-couples, or just 8 children. Even with the gorgeous sets (and they truly were), this one was like they didn't have any space to move in, so it was like old folkish things, or what I'd imagine one used to see in Blackpool but in different attire. Too many people out there, and crowded, so that even these children weren't especially endearing.

Faux Pas said:

Teresina and Gennaro show up on a vespa at the end. It can be ignored in the face of the dancing and Bournonville's brilliant virtuosity. A truly joyous vision of dance.

Yes, that's the overall impression I came away with. I didn't pay attention to 'the works themselves' that much for the first time. It's the details for me in Bournonville, I can't say I find these pieces as transfixing as what I've seen of Ashton, Balanchine, Petipa as a whole. But they're worth it for those tendril-like movements that are like rhizomes, the way they keep propagating after you think they've finished their 'phrase', you think you've got a cadence and then it's like this vine keeps on growing--yes, that's beautiful.

Thanks for that mention of 'turns into jumps' and the rest 'when you least expect' them, vipa. That's what made the experience worth it most to me.

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Unlike the two women I overheard in the restroom state how they saw it years ago at ABT--Did they ever do it?

ABT did it often in the late 60's-mid seventies. I recall Fracci, Kirkland and Makarova as The Sylph, though I'm sure I also saw others. And they revived it just a couple of years ago.

Sorry, the ladies in the restroom were referring to THE LESSON. I know ABT has done La Sylphide many times before now.

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