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A report on RDB's recent performances


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#1 Anne

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 10:12 AM

First I’d like to congratulate Nikolaj Hübbe on his general planning of the running season: Within the limits of a very narrow budget he has made a really fine repertoire: Bringing one completely new programme with Jerome Robbins Dances at a Gathering and West Side Story Suite (both have never been on the repertory of the RDB before) and one completely new staging of Bournonvilles Napoli, he has cleverly put the rest of the programmes together by mixing old and new pieces side by side in a very refreshing way or by repremiering former successes, such as Giselle and John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It should have appealed to a large audience, but the sale has apparently been quite low until now, which I can’t understand, financial crisis or not.

I missed the Robbins programme, which I would have loved to see, but until now I had the chance to see three programmes of the RDB this season: Napoli, Giselle and , most recently, Bournonville & Balanchine, consisting of Bournonoville’s La Sylphide and Balanchine’s Symphony in C.

Napoli
There has already been a lot of talk, also on this site, about Nikolaj Hübbe and Sorella Englund’s staging of Bournonville’s Napoli, where they have transferred the story to the nineteenfifties. It got a very warm welcome in most Danish newspapers, the attitude somehow being ”let’s give Hübbe a fair chance and bring an open mind to it”.
Especially the 2nd act was highly praised as a refreshing renewal of the ballet’s weakest point: New music and new choreography in stead of trying to reconstruct and rearrange what is left of this ill-treated act. I liked it too, especially the gorgeous stagedecor,the light effects and the floating costumes. The music by the young Louise Alenius Boserup was smooth and more traditional than I would have expected from this cross-over composer. In my opinion she should have used her hallmark, namely her strange, otherworldly voice, much more. She does so in the beginning of the act, where her whispering, computermanipulated voice emanates from the orchestral pit like underwater airbubbles puffing towards the surface, and I thought at once, vouw, this is going to be great! Regrettably, soon after the music changes to a sort of modern mainstream romanticism, which suits the staging and Hübbe’s only modestly modern choreography well, but it would as well had it been for a film production of the Lord of the Rings. The music is professionally done and it is far from bad or embarrassing, but I’m afraid it has not the caliber that will help this new version of Napoli survive into the future.
The 1st act was in general well received too. It felt very much alive, the dancers visibly enjoying being there, wearing new clothes and trying out new gags and tricks. In his staging of this act, Hübbe has been very faithful to the original choreography, not only the steps, also the placing on the stage are almost the same: how the dancers are grouped, how they move across the stage etc., and thus acknowledging that Bournonville was not only a great master in creating steps but also a genius when it came to populating a stage and arranging a crowd in telling tableaux. The costumes were fine and I was surprised how easily I could accept the contrast between choreography of the 19th century and costumes of the 20th century. Only the shorts and the sleeveless white shirts (looking like ordinary undershirts) of Gennaro and the other fisherboys looked extremely unflattering – on anybody!
No one, however, has spoken well about the 3rd act, which is a confusing mixture of the modern style of the 1st act and the traditional version. It is a difficult task, because the dancing in this act is so all important, and the dancing is so very close related to the traditional costumes. I think Hübbe and Englund should have been brave and have changed the costumes for that act as well. The skirts of the fifties are much the same shape as the traditional Bournonville skirts: narrow waist and wide, kneelong skirts. That could have been great fun!
The question is, whether you should do a modernisation like this, if you don’t have an idea that covers up the whole piece. If you can’t make the third act fit into the plan, the idea is simply not good enough. Jane Simpson has pointed out that this version of Napoli is like watching 3 different and independent ballets – a kind of triple bill –, and I think this is very precise. The ballet will be on the repertory next season too, and that gives Hübbe/Englund time to work it over once more. It is worth the effort, because much of this version works really well.

Giselle
The production of Giselle was a repremiere from last season and it was sent on tour in the provinces in January this year where I saw two of the performances. Two different casts were sent on tour, but as the RDB doesn’t make the cast lists public until few days before a performance I didn’t have any influence on that aspect and thus happened to see the same cast twice! But apart from that it was a great experience!
It is a traditional staging but not at all stuffy. Only one thing annoyed me: I don’t understand why Giselle is buried in the woods, with no cross on the grave. In this version Giselle doesn’t commit suicide like in the original french version but dies from a weak/broken heart, and therefore she should be buried in christened earth. Maybe it is a tradition no one questions anymore, but it is illogical.
The willis of the 2nd act was the most disciplined lot I have seen for a very long time. Perfectly synchronized and radiating the right icy beauty. Gudrun Bojesen was Giselle, charming and heartrendering in the first act, unearthly and tragic in the second. She is at the moment the brightest shining star in the company. It is not only her strong technique, but her ability to make every step look beautiful and extraordinary. It always looks like she has oceans of time, even when it is allegro, every movement is in place and finely chiseled, but always looking natural, and with a perfect phrasing so that the dancing gets light and shadow. Her acting in the 1st act was fine, though I have seen more heartbreaking performances, but in the 2nd act she was nothing less than sublime. At the same time remote and present in her sorrow. Marcin Kupinski was her Albrecht. He has recently been promoted to soloist and is, along with Ulrik Birkkjær, newly appointed principal, being heavily exposed in all the leading roles of the repertory. Kupinski was no even match for Gudrun Bojesen, neither technically or dramatically. He has a very limited range of expressions, but he has a sympathetic way of being on stage, and a clean and light dancing style with lots of air in his jumps.
Femke Mølbach was unfortunately replaced by Kizzy Matiakis as Myrtha. Matiakis is an efficient dancer with a strong technique, but somehow her dancing never comes truly alive, she is always looking strangely controlled and tight, her lines never long and smooth. I hope she will be able to loosen up some day because she looks like a really hardworking dancer.
Charles Andersen and Lena Maria Gruber rendered the most endearing solos as Giselle’s friends in the big divertissenment in the 1st act. Pure delicacy and charm. Certainly two young dancers to watch out for!

Bournonville & Balanchine
On February 24 I saw the last performance of the mixed programme with Bournonoville’s La Sylphide and Balanchine’s Symphony in C, and I must admit that it was a mixed experience. Again I hadn’t chosen the cast myself, even on the day of the performance one couldn’t read anywhere who was going to dance.
Like in Napoli it was Ulrik Birkkjær who had the lead, dancing James in La Sylphide, and Susanne Grinder was his Sylph. Grinder had her debut in this part earlier this year. She is a very promising dancer with an intelligent and charming approach to the role, but still not able to fill the stage with her presence or fill the role for that sake, but who does so in the beginning? I think she has potential and will grow if she gets the time. Her dancing is very pleasant and light, with much refinement, and you believed her grief in the end of the ballet. Ulrik Birkkjær, on the other hand, is more of a problem, especially now where he gets all the best parts in the repertory where acting is implied (Gennaro, Albrecht, James, Romeo etc.). I really think he is overexposed at the time being, and that is a pity, both for him and for us, the audience. As Gennaro he could pass as an ordinary young man and you could live with this ”ordinariness” because so much else is going on in this ballet, but La Sylphide doesn’t have this diversity and it draws it’s life from the main characters. His face is telling very little, though he tries hard, but it is both too much and too little, his mime reminding me of an early silent movie with wide open eyes, and lots of black around the eyes (couldn’t someone help him with his make-up?).
Two young and a bit pale characters in the same performance is perhaps too much to make an interesting Sylphide. I was lucky, though, and saw the guestdancer Merrill Ashley as Madge, who had an impressive ability to tune into the world of this ballet. She was much in line with the Madge of Sorella Englund, rather than the more traditional witch of Jette Buchwald.
Symphony in C , which is merely a show of brilliance, was only partly brilliant. To the brilliant end belongs Amy Watson’s solo in the 1st movement, partnered nicely but unimpressively by Gregory Dean, and Diana Cuni and Alban Lendorf as the solocouple in the 3rd movement. Alban Lendorf is the most promising male dancer in the moment, with an interesting and open face communicating with the audience and breathtaking airy jumps. You cannot take your eyes from him as soon as he enters the stage.
In the 2nd movement Alexandra Lo Sardo, a newcomer to the company, was the solo lady. She is a very secure dancer and masters the adagio perfectly, maybe owing some of her succes to the excellent partnering by Jean-Lucien Massot, who’s hands are always in place and never in the way. But she is a totally wrong type for this part, being very short and with no ”ballerina-grandeur”. And then she looked extremely sulky all the time. Maybe it was just her concentration showing on her face, but it was highly distracting. Lena Maria Gruber, who did a most charming figure in the divertissements in the 1st act of Giselle, had the solo of the 4th movement, and she did it efficiently but without the indefinable ”more” which is needed in the solos of this ballet.
What surprised me most was the lack of homogeneity in the corps and in the secundary solocouples. It surprised me because they had only weeks before done such a fine job in Giselle. In the 1st movement british Kizzy Matiakis was cast opposite american Holly Jean Dorger, and seeing them together was like watching the crash of two different planets: the first pure disciplin and clean lines, the other an exuberant bunch of fluttering arms and hands, swaying hips and great smiles. Something in the middle would have been fine! This was the worst example of individual styles put toghether, but there were many such ”diversities” in the corps in general on this evening.

New casting politics?
There has lately been a lot of writing in the newspapers about Nikolaj Hübbe’s casting strategies, and it hasn’t been in his favour! One has got the clear feeling that the honeymoon is over and that he has stretched the patience of even his most fervent admirers (myself included) too far. I guess, that we simply miss some of the ”older” soloist and principals deeply: Thomas Lund, Tina Højlund, Diana Cuni, Andrew Bowman, Gudrun Bojesen, Morten Eggert etc. which we have come to love in the wake of the great generation of dancers of which Hübbe himself is a part (Silja Schandorff, Rose Gad, Kenneth Greve, Caroline Cavallo etc.) and who have now retired. I fear they risk to be a lost generation. They are mature artists now in their thirties and we know that they have only few years left on the top, and we are sorry to miss out on these golden years of a dancers life, where technique, stage presence and acting abilities are peaking in a kind of synergie. Instead we see all the new ones all the time, and artists like Thomas Lund and Morten Eggert are waisted in the often small character roles, whereas we longto see them DANCE!
It is important to let the new and young dancers try their luck on the stage, but it is a problem when it takes over to this extent.
Further more it looks like priority is given solely to dancing abilities and none to acting abilities, and that is fatal in a company like the RDB, where one of the absolute strengths has always been the fine mime and the dramatic quality, and where a large part of the repertoire is based on the story ballets. Ulrik Birkkjær, Nehemiah Kish and Marcin Kupinski might all be excellent dancers but they are a bit blank when it comes to acting and yet they dominate the entire repertoire. I miss some stage personalities, especially among the men! Alexander Stæger and Alban Lendorf among the young come to mind in that connection – let them get some more stage light, please!

#2 Jane Simpson

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 01:12 PM

Anne, it's great to read such a long and detailed account. I was at the same Sylphide/Symphony in C performance as you were - if you want to have a look at my own review you'll see that we had very similar opinions, except that I really liked Alexandra Lo Sardo - though I think perhaps more people were with you on that.

By the way, Nikolaj Hubbe said at the press conference announcing next season's programme that he knew Napoli wasn't quite right yet and that they would be doing more work on it before it comes back - will be interesting to see what he does.

#3 miliosr

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 04:35 PM

It should have appealed to a large audience, but the sale has apparently been quite low until now, which I can’t understand, financial crisis or not.


Thanks for the review Anne.

Has there been any discussion in the Danish press as to why some of the programs sold so poorly?

#4 Anne

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 07:39 AM

It should have appealed to a large audience, but the sale has apparently been quite low until now, which I can’t understand, financial crisis or not.


Thanks for the review Anne.

Has there been any discussion in the Danish press as to why some of the programs sold so poorly?


There hasn't been any discussion that I am aware of. The problem is a general one for the Royal Theatre (including opera and drama), and I think it is a very complex one. But it is a pity, because they will have to cut down furthermore in the next season.
The ballet gets very little press at the moment. The repertoire for the next season was launched a couple of weeks ago, and only one of the national papers (Berlingske Tidende) bothered to cover it. It is really sad!

#5 Anne

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 07:48 AM

Anne, it's great to read such a long and detailed account. I was at the same Sylphide/Symphony in C performance as you were - if you want to have a look at my own review you'll see that we had very similar opinions, except that I really liked Alexandra Lo Sardo - though I think perhaps more people were with you on that.


Thank you for the link to your review! I did read it when you posted it a week ago but decidedly didn't re-read it before doing my own report, because it was so close to my own experience that it would be difficult to write independently if it was too vivid in remembrance. Thank you, by the way, for two excellent reviews in the last numbers of DanceView!

#6 Jane Simpson

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 09:55 AM

I think when you have to write something later, it's much worse reading something you completely agree with than something you think is totally wrong! I know the solution is not to read anything till you've written your own piece, but I can never resist, and just once or twice I've thought I was going to have to file something which just said "I entirely agree with So-and-So."

Glad you liked the DanceView pieces.

Did you see the Neumeier Midsummer Night's Dream?

#7 bart

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 12:04 PM

It should have appealed to a large audience, but the sale has apparently been quite low until now, which I can’t understand, financial crisis or not.


Thanks for the review Anne.

Has there been any discussion in the Danish press as to why some of the programs sold so poorly?


There hasn't been any discussion that I am aware of. The problem is a general one for the Royal Theatre (including opera and drama), and I think it is a very complex one. But it is a pity, because they will have to cut down furthermore in the next season.

Anne, thank you for your reports. Given the financial situation you describe, doesn't next season's 4-city U.S. tour seem like a bit risky? (Unless of course there is a big government or corporate subsidy.)

Traveling over such enormous distances with a full company, all those sets and costumes, and (I presume) an orchestra must be hugely expensive.

Orange County 23 - 29 May, 2011
Berkeley, San Francisco 30 May - 5 June
Washington 6 June - 12 June
New York 13 June - 19 June



#8 Anne

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 12:52 PM

Did you see the Neumeier Midsummer Night's Dream?


I haven't yet, but I have tickets for a performance later in March - can't wait!! I'm so happy that Cojocaru is going to dance Titania/Hippolyta on that evening, she's a great favorite of mine.

#9 Anne

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 12:58 PM

It should have appealed to a large audience, but the sale has apparently been quite low until now, which I can’t understand, financial crisis or not.


Thanks for the review Anne.

Has there been any discussion in the Danish press as to why some of the programs sold so poorly?


There hasn't been any discussion that I am aware of. The problem is a general one for the Royal Theatre (including opera and drama), and I think it is a very complex one. But it is a pity, because they will have to cut down furthermore in the next season.

Anne, thank you for your reports. Given the financial situation you describe, doesn't next season's 4-city U.S. tour seem like a bit risky? (Unless of course there is a big government or corporate subsidy.)

Traveling over such enormous distances with a full company, all those sets and costumes, and (I presume) an orchestra must be hugely expensive.


The company is a state company and as such heavily subsidied (they couldn't exist without), and I suppose the Danish government is paying for tours like that as a kind of Danish culture campaign (they probably try and sell some Danish bacon at the same time!).

#10 Jane Simpson

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 01:00 PM

Also I think Hubbe said they have found some private sponsorship.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:46 PM

Anne, thank you so much for this! (Sorry I've come late to the feast.) I read this with great interest and am looking forward to your "Midsummer" review.

#12 Jane Simpson

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 07:55 AM

As a footnote to Anne's remarks about the demi-soloists in Symphony in C, David Amzallag has just put up a new set of photos which follow the American corps de ballet dancer Holly Jean Dorger through rehearsals after she was given 90 minutes to learn the first movement. There's also an account by Dorger herself of what it felt like.

#13 Anne

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 11:12 AM

Thank you for that information! That explains a lot. One never knows what dramas have taken place backstage before you take your seats in the auditorium. It seems that the company has a lot of injuries to cope with, and maybe that could be a part of the explanations, why some of the dancers are dearly missed on the cast lists. Mads Blangstrup has apparently been away for a long time due to injuries but is now back again. I still wonder why we haven't seen anything of Kristoffer Sakurai for more than a year. He was cast for James in one of the last performances of La Sylphide in February, but I'm not sure whether he did dance in the end. It's a great pity as he is an extraordinary beautiful and talented dancer.


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