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Alexandra

Is Bournonville Still Alive?

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For some interesting answers to that question, here's Eva Kistrup's interview with Danish dance critic Alexander Meinertz:

 

Is Bournonville still alive?

Quote

“I’m a huge admirer of Bournonville’s work. In fact, I would argue that Bournonville was not just a great choreographer in the sense that he really knew how to move dancers to music in really delightful and exciting ways. In his day he was called a “ballet poet”, and I think that’s accurate: his storylines and stagings are second to none and stand out to this day for their complexity and detail.”

As it is, I don’t think Bournonville’s really seen for his true worth in this country, definitely not today.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Thank you. I was very struck by the mention of Ratmansky, because one of the indirect ways Bournonville’s influence lives today is, I think, in his impact on Ratmansky’s work, though I know this interview is concerned with the works themselves.

I was also struck by Meinertz’ negative reference to “Bournonville  fundamentalists” of an earlier generation —a phrase that may mean something more concrete to others than it did to me. 

Do Royal Danish Ballet watchers here think his assessment of Hubbe’s approach to Bournonville is fair? I know what I think when I read about Hubbe’s productions and repertory choices, but I also know that what seems questionable on paper can sometimes work in the theater....(I missed the Danes entirely during their last U.S. tour.)

Edited by Drew

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Looking at this thread, I'm not sure!

Thanks for your post, Drew. I've seen a Bournonville influence as well, or perhaps they both share a vision of dance.

The "Bournonville generalists" were 3 or 4 people in the early 90s who touted Bournonville and probably did love him, but whose productions were.....lacking in life.  The generation before them (Hans Brenaa in everything; Kirsten Ralov, the mistress of Bournonville style and director of several productions; and Henning Kronstam's "La Sylphide" and Act 1, at least, of "Napoli") flowered with Kronstam's 1979 Bournonville Festival.  

I haven't seen the company in awhile, so I can't say whether Hubbe's approach to Bournonville is fair. He's certainly not scheduling much of it, though.

Others who've seen the company recently?

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On 6/12/2018 at 9:28 PM, Drew said:

Thank you. I was very struck by the mention of Ratmansky, because one of the indirect ways Bournonville’s influence lives today is, I think, in his impact on Ratmansky’s work, though I know this interview is concerned with the works themselves.

He considers himself to be very influenced by his experience in Denmark with the company and that repertory.

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On ‎6‎/‎13‎/‎2018 at 11:05 AM, Alexandra said:

Looking at this thread, I'm not sure!

The small number of responses to this thread may be the answer to your original question.

In any event, I would break up your original question ('Is Bournonville Still Alive?') into a number of sub-questions:

  • Are the Bournonville steps being maintained in an historically accurate manner?
  • Are the current Bournonville productions faithful to his original intentions?
  • Are the school and the company reinforcing one another in terms of maintaining the Bournonville method and style? (In other words, is the school producing enough dancers schooled in Bournonville's method and is the company producing the Bournonville works regularly enough that the schooling is maintained?)

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The crucial player in the survival of Bournonville's works will be Hubbe's successor - possibly, from that

point of view, the most important appoinment ever. The other important player is the Copenhagen audience .

I understand what Hubbe is trying to do with Bournonville but I don't understand why, having made over the productions according to his own ideas, he doesn't programme them.

One point of interest is that the incoming Theatre Director - Hubbe's boss - is Kasper Holten: his own career of course has been in opera but he is also ballet-aware - his own brother was the RDB school, for instance.

The company was given a huge amount of money a few years ago to put on a new full-evening production each season - personally I think it would be much better for the company if someone were to guarantee the box-office for a strong triple bill every year, perhaps with lower ticket prices.

 

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I'm wondering if the question isn't so much "Is Bournonville alive?" as "Is Bournonville an active influence on the Danish company/school?"  Balanchine is alive because the repertory is still performed, yes, but even more so because it matters to the company, and to many other parts of the ballet world.  I'd argue that Macmillan, as overwrought as I personally find many of his works, is alive because his work and his choices still influence a significant part of the community.  Cunningham is still alive, even though he decided before his death to disband the company -- I see his hand in a multitude of artists.

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As an aside, Kasper Holten was the director of the brilliant Copenhagen Ring, and in the DVD extras, there's a discussion between him and the Queen.

As an aside, Kasper Holten was the director of the brilliant Copenhagen Ring, and in the DVD extras, there's a discussion between him and the Queen.

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Holten's tenure at the Royal Opera in London was controversial because of the unpopular, inappropriate productions he commissioned, paradoxically his own productions (my favourite was King Roger) were nowhere near as bad.

I personally feel there is far too much MacMillan in London, his 'overwrought' melodramas become tedious and we are force fed them at the expense of Ashton's inventive classicism.

 

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I have followed this thread from the sideline, not sure whether I could add anything new after having read the interviews with and the articles by Alexander Meinertz. I think his views are absolutely to the point regarding the state of the RDB under Hübbe's reign, and especially Hübbe's handling of the Bournonville heritage.

Meinertz' statement at the end of his article "Hübbe's Company" could have been mine, only better worded: 

Quote

Choosing technique over content, foreign-trained over Danish-trained dancers, and an international standard repertory over national heritage is not visionary or a sign of particularly inspired outlook. It’s the opposite.

I went to only one performance during the festival and I had chosen the "Bornonvilleana" which was the second night of the festival. The festival programme as a whole was extremely thin, embarrassing so. Unfortunately the Bournonvilleana was a rather tame affair, too, reducing Bournonville to a series of solos and ensembles taken out of their context, with only the finale of Napoli in a staged version. The rest was danced on  a bare stage with an oldfashioned onesided theatre curtain as the only backdrop.

After the overture from La Sylphide the curtain rose to reveal the corps clad in the plain gray costumes from Hübbe's version of the very same ballet, dancing the reel. In Hübbe's version the happy scotsmen are replaced by unhappy scotsmen, afraid of both love and life. The contrast between the festive music and the gloomy visual impression was even more shocking and absurd here, seen as it was out of context. The story was left out and the reel thus turned into pure dance. This turned out to be symptomatic of the evening: An hommage to Bournonville, the step-maker. After "Pas de Vestale", an extremely difficult pas de deux preserved in one of the Bournonville Schools, a series of male variations from famous pas de deux's took place, probably in order to demonstrate the versatility of male dance in Bournonville's oeuvre. But you couldn't help feeling fobbed off when offered only a single male variation from "The Flowerfest of Genzano" at a Bournonville Gala! 

The programme went on in this manner for a long time, a lot of steps without a story, until suddenly, before the second and last intermission, we had the finale of La Sylphide, with witch, assisting sylphs and everything, but still no props.  These finally came on for the last act of Napoli. The pas de six and the following solos were danced with much youthful temperament and charm but not with much individuality. I miss the changing tempi and free phrasing which characterized the generation of dancers from the last festival 13 years ago. Now it is all very quick and efficient, no sophistications, like dragging time by lying behind the beat or otherwise play with our expectations. The tarantella was initiated by a couple of young dancers with an almost aggressive energy, and that laid the style for rest, the ballet ending in total hip-swaying abandon. Never has Act III looked more like rock'n roll.

It was on purpose when above I said "step-maker" and not choreographer, because that is what Hübbe reduced Bournonville to on that occasion. And unfortunately not only on this occasion. Alexander Meinertz brings it to the point, what is wrong with the way the Bournonville legacy is handled today. I highly recommend reading the interview and the article in their full length. I totally agree with his point of view, and it actually makes me very sad to admit it, because, like others, I had great hopes when Hübbe took over the company a decade ago. Especially after having seen his production of La Sylphide in 2003, where he really brought life from within to this classic, without killing it first, like he did in his second and disastrous production in 2015 which I have written about earlier on this site.

Hübbe's productions are more Hübbe than they are Bournonville. He keeps saying that he shows Bournonville respect by challenging him and "wrestling" with him, but when asked what exactly it is he values so highly, it always boils down to the steps. Hübbe adores the musicality of Bournonvilles choreography, and I believe him, when he says so, but the romantic and dramatic spirit in which the ballets - and the steps - are conceived seems to be indigestable to him. And in stead of leaving the job of directing them to someone else, who doesn't have these reservations, he just peals off the layers he doesn't like and adds some he personally thinks is more interesting. The problem is that what he removes is not the outer layers but actually the very core of the ballets. Meinertz puts it this way:

Quote

In Hübbe’s productions of “Napoli” and “A Folk Tale”, Bournonville’s Christian faith has become the great man’s downfall. Nikolaj Hübbe has explained that being atheist, he doesn’t find the role religion plays in these two stories credible. [...] It really bugs me, and intellectually and creatively I find it to be a very lax attitude, not just because he undermines the dramatic logic of the pieces and actually turns them into the sentimental tales he supposedly wants to save them from being, but because he could so easily work with the concept and the idea of faith in new ways that could enrich their meaning and significance.
It is not just God, Nikolaj Hübbe doesn’t believe in, it’s Bournonville himself. 

 

 

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Many thanks, Anne, for your analysis and point of view.  I wish you had better news, but better to know what is happening.

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On ‎6‎/‎17‎/‎2018 at 3:13 AM, miliosr said:
  • Are the current Bournonville productions faithful to his original intentions?

They are not. This is true of many modern productions of classics, however, so, not being faithful to the original intentions, may not be the best criterion to judge those productions. Hübbe's approach to Bournonville seems to be wrong at its root, Alexander Meinertz in his article, and Anne in her long post above, articulate what is wrong with it very well. I consider their voices to be important and very timely.

Ratmansky was mentioned by Meinertz in the context of searching desperately for somebody who could save Bournonville from the likes of Hübbe, not as a ready proposal. Perhaps the Danes need somebody like Yuri Burlaka whose productions of Imperial Russian classics (reconstructions and stylizations) have so much appeal.

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Brava Anne and of course BRAVO to Meinertz for saying it as it is. 

The situation at the RDB is even more dramatic than the situation at the Paris Opera. 

 

Sickening, disgusting, disrespectful productions that have NOTHING to do with Bournonville, almost no Danish trained dancers in the company, no legends coaching at the company, an egomaniac Artistic Director who thinks he knows better than anyone, and apparently not many people give a damn about it, because Hübbe is still there, and just like Anne, I also had great hopes for him when he took over but his tenure is killing the company. 

 

If anyone reading this post thinks I am being overly dramatic I just want to remind you that there are only 3 Danish trained dancers in the corps de ballet, let that sink in. 

You can NOT dance (do justice) to Bournonville if you're not Danish(French) trained, look at the crop of dancers in the company! What a disgrace!.... But would things get better if they take more dancers from the company's school!? NOT AT ALL! Because the level of the training at the school has dropped dramatically, so it's a chain of unfortunate events....

 

Hübbe's after Bournonville productions should be banned by law, his Sylphide is insulting, his Napoli is revolting but his Folkesagn (Folk Tale) is a DISGRACE, I actually fainted when I saw it, what kind of garbage is that!? You can NOT remove the Christian element from Folkesagn! That's like removing Nikiya's death from Bayaderka, Rothbart's curse over Odette, the Willis from Giselle...... The artistic director's personal preferences can not destroy a ballet.....Bournonville's finest ballet! Hübbe is indeed not removing outer layers but the very core of Bournonville's ballets. 

 

On 6/16/2018 at 7:43 PM, miliosr said:

 

  • Are the Bournonville steps being maintained in an historically accurate manner?
  • Are the current Bournonville productions faithful to his original intentions?
  • Are the school and the company reinforcing one another in terms of maintaining the Bournonville method and style? (In other words, is the school producing enough dancers schooled in Bournonville's method and is the company producing the Bournonville works regularly enough that the schooling is maintained?)

Just in case, the answers are: 

NO

NO

and

NO

 

This company has seen better days with a much tinier budget, I decided to not attend any more performances at the Royal Theatre 2 years ago, it doesn't matter how much I write to the minister of culture, I don't see the situation changing anytime soon, someone please call Arne Villumsen, for the love of God! :crying: 

Edited by Gnossie

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Surely Bournonville technique, like any other, can be taught?  The question is whether the teaching of this style is allowed priority.

There was once an 'English' style at the RB and it was, in my opinion, vey beautiful.  It is now all but lost due to emphasis on modern works and MacMillan rep at the expense of Ashton and the classics.  I think there are a number of Danes capable of restoring Bournonville but it looks as if they won't get a chance.

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11 hours ago, Gnossie said:

If anyone reading this post thinks I am being overly dramatic I just want to remind you that there are only 3 Danish trained dancers in the corps de ballet, let that sink in. 

 

According to my count on the RDB website today there are 17 graduates of the RDB school in the corps de ballet.

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