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Nikolaj Hübbe's La Sylphide


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from the Royal Theatre:

Bournonville news: New La Sylphide

James has lost his beloved Sylph 755 times at the Royal Theatre Old Stage in

Copenhagen. But with the 756th performance, curtains will be drawn on a

reinterpretation by the Danish dancer Nikolaj Hübbe.

As a brilliant interpreter of James on stage, Nikolaj Hübbe - principal

dancer at the New York City Ballet since 1992 - has always had a passion for

La Sylphide. Now he debuts as director of his own rendition of this

Bournonville classic in close collaboration with the Danish set designer

Mikael Melbye.

Nikolaj Hübbe was trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School in Copenhagen

and his experience with La Sylphide - from children's parts to that of James

- spans a full dancing career. In his new staging he emphasises the living

continuity of the unique Royal Danish Ballet tradition.

"La Sylphide is one of the principal works of the Bournonville repertoire.

An ingenious story that is emblematic of the Romantic epoch yet timeless. It

is no coincidence that La Sylphide is among the most performed ballets the

world over. As a prelude to the 3rd Bournonville Festival in 2005 we present

a reinterpretation of La Sylphide complete with new sets. I find it vital

that the younger generation of dancers contribute to maintaining the

Bournonville heritage - his style and expression. I have therefore invited

Nikolaj Hübbe to stage La Sylphide according to his own heart."

Artistic Director Frank Andersen

La Sylphide is sponsored by Danisco

Danish Premiere | Old Stage

20 September 2003


20 | 21 | 27 September

2 | 3 | 4 | 7 | 16 | 22 | 24 October 2003 with Etudes

4 | 6 | 7 | 11 November 2003 with Napoli III act.

More about La Sylphide:




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the casts :


Gudrun Bojesen

(20/9, 3/10, 16/10, 11/11)

Rose Gad

(21/9, 2/10, 4/10)

Silja Schandorff

(27/9, 7/10, 22/10, 6/11)

Caroline Cavallo

(24/10, 4/11, 7/11)


Thomas Lund

(20/9, 3/10, 16/10, 11/11)

Mads Blangstrup

(21/9, 27/9, 2/10, 4/10, 22/10, 24/10, 4/11, 7/11)

Kenneth Greve

(7/10, 6/11)


Lis Jeppesen

(20/9, 3/10, 16/10, 24/10, 11/11)

Jette Buchwald

(21/9, 2/10, 4/10, 4/11, 7/11)

Mette Bødtcher

(27/9, 7/10, 22/10, 6/11)

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The Hübbe production of La Sylphide is most of all a step back to previous production values. He has scrapped all the little extras put in by Dinna Bjørn in the latest productions, mini solos examples, add. mime. Compared to the old Brenaa/Kronstamversion there is only one major change. In this production Gurn cannot see the sylph, which in my view lessens the impact of the final scene in act one. It is ok to loose the "falling on his bum - ha ha " element, but it makes a almost empty "line" for Gurn to deliver at a crucial point in the story.

He is also driven up the tempo. This is surely the fastest La Sylhide there has even been. The dancing is spacious and it is wonderful to see a sylphide that is not forced to limit her movements, which was a very sad developement in the Bjørn version.

I am not very satified with the scenography and costumes by Michael Melby. Somehow he has managed to dress James in the dullest colours, blu and dark green as opposed to very bright yeloows and reds for the corps. Adding also three Scoth pipers in full Trooping the colour gear is making a much to dominent feautures. The sylphs costume is to much like a ballgown and the fireplace is to big.It almost signal: Someone will use this exit. Unfortunately the scottish girls still looks like girls guides. The decor for act two is neither pretty nor alluring. The backdrop need much more attention. Is has an uncanny feel of a dolls theatre. Michael Melby has done some great decors for opera, but ballet do not look like his field. It is as he cannot get the scale right. In hinsight I would have preferred Mia Steengaad, who made a great Manon to do the decor.

The premiere cast was Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen with Lis Jeppesen as Madge. I think tha Hübbe could have casted himself to a bigger impact with Schandorff with either Kenneth Greve or Mads Blangstrup. Bojesen is lovely but also very naive sylph. Thomas Lund is well Thomas Lund. A great little dancer with the love and tecnique for Bournonvilll. an intelligent dancer, who understand what he is doing but without the looks and personally to portray a tormented, good looking soul. Which is exactuly what James be (and what we have been use to from our best James´s). He seem interested but not overwhelmed by the sylph and combined with Bojesens approach you get nice dancing but no tragic or existental drama. The last time i saw a debut as the sylph I cried. This time my eays stayed dry. The alternative cast may still produced tears and a clearer vision of what Hübbe wants. It may also be added that Lis Jeppesens choices for Madge is more personal than optimal. She has chosen to play the part with her own rather short cut hair as opposed to her balding gnom, produced last time. But as she cannot or will not use the opposites in the role like old -young, tall - short , weak -healthy it lack drama. Unfortunately Sorella Englund is no longer on the rooster and it is a grat loss. Morten Eggert was a capable Gurn, Tina Højlund a nice Effy, but "LaSylphide" needs a stellar trio on top, and we cannot call this more than a nice try.

Following La Sylphide we got "Etudes" with a trio of our imported dancers Cavallo, Massot and Bowman, of which neither really managed to bring on that little bit of extra. The corps was fine but we could do with a new decor or rather a decor for this work.

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Following La Sylphide we got "Etudes" with a trio of our imported dancers Cavallo, Massot and Bowman, of which neither really managed to bring on that little bit of extra. The corps was fine but we could do with a new decor or rather a decor for this work.

Effy, leaving "La Sylphide" quite aside for the moment, as they may still be trying to find the "heart" of this staging, as your very good review points out, what would you think of a set for "Etudes" that made a stylized version of the recognizable classrooms/rehearsal halls of the Royal Danish Ballet? Failing that, perhaps the lobby of the Theater Royal could work as well. I have always had this feeling while watching "Etudes" that it says important things about ballet, and not just any ballet, but things rather specific to the Danish School. I know that the classroom set has been done in "Konservatoriet", but to me, that ballet and "Etudes" have always been the best choreographic international goodwill ambassadors for Danish ballet. I love them both very much.

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hey :o

well I thought that the saturday la sylphide cast was great - though agreeing on the hole Thomas Lund thing, I thought Gudrun Bojesen was absolutely wonderful.... :rolleyes:

Though she did the part in both madrid and rome, this was here rdb debut!

regarding the naiv thing - i think that the sylph have to be "naiv" (though i dont like that term) She must be sweet, wonderfull, fragile and in her own little fantasy world to justify the hole story... if the sylph was a little calculating bitch the witch could just go home and sleep... but it all depend on how you see the story!!! ;o) is the sylph and the witch the same person?? or is the sylph jamess fantasy creature?? and what about the possible previous love relation between james and the witch?? i mean why is the witch welcomed by everyone except James??? :shrug:

And Etudes was really really good!!! :ermm:


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Thanks very much, Effy and Nikolai. Effy, I was glad, too, to read about the decor. And I agree with you about Gurn -- he HAS to see the Sylph. It's in the mime. He sees her twice. (Kronstam's view on this, as he told it to me, was that the Sylph has been there all the time, but no one could see her, until she chose to "materialize herself" to James. Then she's "real" -- she can be seen, not only by him, but by anyone else who is there. Also, re Leigh's comment about Madge and James, that was Kronstam's view, that he's frightened by the witch because she can see into his soul and dreams, but I think that was a personal interpretation not a production standard.)

Effy, am I reading you right, that they've cut the mime scene now where Gurn explains that he saw a creature flying? Also, does Effy have a solo? I know Bjorn took out the Brenaa one and added one of her own, but I wasn't clear whether the whole solo had been cut, or three was a new one, or the Brenaa had been put back.

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B) hey

- Leigh

well it was not really my view of the story that james and the witch ... you know..

but im just saying that people read the story in so many different ways, therefore when Gudrun Bojesen are doing the sylph as "naiv" it might not be "right" because it doesnt fit with the way effy see the story... :( but for others its perfect - soo

- Alexandra

they did change gurns lines and effy did have a solo... :hyper:

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Thanks, nikolai!

There have been other "naiv" (or innocent?) Sylphs -- Lis Jeppesen did it that way when she was very young. I've read the idea that The Sylph and Madge are sisters -- I believe it was Svend Kragh Jacobsen's theory. (It's not mine :( ) But I know there are people who read the story that way.

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Do not get me wrong. Bojesen is a great sylph in the making and one of my favorate dancers. Her take on the role is very much what I expected it to be. I feel personally that her intrepretation would work better with say Mads Blangstrup as James. If the sylph is sweet and innocent she need a very passionate James for it to work. And a soft James needs a willful Sylph to drive the drama. A willful and erotic sylph can also work with a strong James. Here we are stock with a sweet sylph and a mellow James, so you do not reach the highest drama level. As often casting is everything. I think it may also work if (or when) Morten Eggert get the chance opposite Bojesen. They are very effective in the recent tripple bill. Effy has a solo (the Brenaa one). Regarding the mime sequence. Gurn returns and explains that he has seen a crazy James. full stop, I totally agree that Gurn as well as Madge should be able to see the Sylph. It also makes the previous scene whre Gurn collects Effy to show what James is up to, meaningless.

Re. a decor for Etudes we are presently stock with a decor, that combines black velvet drapings with a few chandeliers and some awful pillars (they actually look somewhat like the original black decor for the 1948 periere). It cannot be a class room because the ballet evolve from the class room to the stage, but I am convinced that it must be possible to create something with more style and atmosphere. The original 1948 had a sort of fouer thing with busts on piedestalls if i remember corectly.

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HEY :cool2:

first of all im really amazed on alexandras extensive rdb knowledge - wauw - howcome you know so much?? and i thought I was somewhat knowing... :huh: :speechless: :(:lol:

I noticed you live in DC - you must be looking forward to the rdb tour then....

regarding the sylph set i think its somewhat crazy to spend soo much money on something that's just that little bit different and you can question if its even any better...

:D i mean i see the sence in investing and showing that its the bournonville rep that counts... but i could imagine that the many money could have been better spend...

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Hey, Nikolai!

Alexandra may be too modest to tell you that she wrote a great biography of Henning Kronstam (one of my all-time favorite dancers!), and also did her thesis on Bournonville, so she has spent a lot of time and effort in recent years getting to know rdb, its history, dancers and repertoire!

Thank you so much to Nikolai and Effy for their reviews. Some of us would very much have liked to be there, too, but will have to wait until the tour in January instead.

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Effy, I've seen photographs of the set from "Etudes" that you mention too. I think perhaps having the busts of figures from Danish Theatre as a backdrop does make the most sense (and agree that it can't be a classroom; we think of it as a classroom ballet here, but it's not. I keep referring people to Alexander Meinertz's article on Etudes that's on the main DanceView site -- www.danceview.org in the Commentary section -- which I'm sure Effy has read).

I have to say I wasn't impressed with Morten Eggert as a Bournonville dancer when the company was here, in miniature, last spring. But I'd very much like to see Boesen's Sylphide. I'd imagine she was paired with Lund because of his youth and gentleness -- he could be overpowered by someone like Schandorff. I do see a darkness in him, though, that could be interesting in James, and I'll be curious to see him as well.

I hope you all will report on the other casts!

nikolai, you do know a lot about the company! :( We have quite a few people on the board who are interested in the RDB, not only from the company's tours to the U.S. (speaking as an American poster) but some of us have gone to the Bournonville Festivals -- even the 1979 one! So we're very happy to have people like you and Effy and maria and kay reporting on what you're seeing. [Editing because I missed Mary J's post above; we seem to have been posting at the same time!]

I think the reason you got those sets is because they were made for Frank Andersen's production in Sweden a few years ago. It's a shame, because there was a lovely second-act backdrop for Kronstam's production in 1992. It was very well-lit at the Kennedy Center -- better than at home, if I may say so -- and it was very light and delicate, a suitable bower for a sylph.

Edited by Alexandra
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Regarding the decor. Michael Melbye was chosen probably not because he had worked with Frank previously, but because he is highly regarded for his scenography and directing of some of the most succesful opera productions at RDT. Michael Melbye originated as baryton and had an international career primarily as Papageno in The Magic Flyte. He was also a better actor than singer, and when he returned to Denmark he came to the conclusion that his voice had peaked and then reinvented himself as director and scenographer. His opera is very fine, his ballet productions less so. He have dressed Symphony in C, The TIVOLI Nutcracker and now La Sylphide. He has also been involed with make up design and was the make up artist behind Sorella Englunds Madge.

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The dancing look good and on a grander scale than the Dinna Björn production. However, Gudrun Bojesen did not have the grandest Sylphide grand jete I have ever seen. If the tempo was a bit more human, she could probably manage a better jump. It is pushing the boat a bit regarding a more "international" Bournonville style of dancing.

Re. Melbye yes he has done decors for Frank Andersens La Sylphide in Stockholm and China before. We have seen the Chinise version in TIVOLI but it is harsh to judge any scenography on that stage. On the introduction he spoke as if he had done newer research on the subject. Given his status in Denmark I think he would have been chosen, no matter who was doing the production. He is rightly aclaimed for his Opera productions which have been sell-out for years. Several of the reviewers have noted that espciallyy the second act and some of his choices for act one is less than stellar. It is not a bad scenography (execp the backdrop for Act two) It is just too little of an improvement and in some respects less effective than the older poduction. You ended up loving that old battered decor

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I wonder if some stagers of Bournonville's works aren't unduly influenced by the knowledge that his very first works were arranged for a very small (8 meters wide?) stage, and so make their work very intime and internal, rather than consuming space, which always seemed to me a hallmark of the Royal Danish Ballet. Eight meters or twenty-five, they could always fill the stage space without overflowing it.

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Mel, exactly. That's what I've found with Bjorn's stagings, and Andersen's direction. Some of the dancers I've intereviewed call it "Bournonville in a box" (a pun, because it refers not only to the small scale of the dancing, but that it's a "canned" style, taken out of a box rather than organic). And one of the phrases dancers who'd worked witih Brenaa and Kronstam on Bournonville said repeatedly was that they'd been told "use all the space available to you" -- which is why the dancing would look so explosive, rather than dutiful. In the Bournonville Week of 2000, of the young dancers, only Tina Hojlund had that use of space, and that daring.

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You can see excepts of the rehersals and snippets of a stage rehersal in costumes om www.kgl-teater-dk. Just press on the picture from La Sylphide and then press on triailer and choice your connection speed. The dancer are Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen in practise cloths and Mads Blangstrup Rose Gad in costumes. If you go to the "presse" section you can also dowload high quality photos from this and other RDB-productions

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Late as usual, but still :

A most wonderful evening last Saturday for the premiere of la Sylphide at the Royal Theatre. The lanterns were red, the house well sold out and the feeling of anticipation rather palpable with all the expectancies borne on this production (« one of the classic ballet’s most captivating characters – an innocent soul and femme fatale all rolled into one. See the premiere directed by NH , one of the greatest Danish dancers ever… » read the blurb in the papers) which in many ways acted as a pre-pre opener to the festival in two years time. Bojesen was an ethereal sylph of great beauty (and a wonderful dancer, confirmed by her remarkable performance in Etudes the following night), but while her playfulness and that incredible lightness were utterly disarming – the man sitting next to me was falling in love by the minute- I too somehow regret the choice of naïve innocence she embodied and was therefore all the more very sensitive to the Rose Gad’s interpretation on the following matinée, which seemed to convey a slight sense of doom ; surely the sorceress can’t be the only one “aware”. Or is it that « lurve » transforms one into a butterfly (all the more when you are a spirit to start with?) Perhaps… Lund’s James screamed escapism, (though his affection for his Scottish bride came across as utterly genuine) and the décors suggested the sort of « doll house à l’envers” (sheltered/pampered existence, Anna’s power, arranged wedding…). Lund was a rather boyish James, chasing after the object of affection/illusion that forever eludes his grasp with frantic gestures, and can he dance! In the first act, after Eggert’s very laudible solo (a wicked man that Gurn of his), James storms out center stage, beats and open arm jétés like none, erasing all we have seen just before and leaving an ever lasting impression. Lund, and the following day Blangstrup, both manage to pinpoint their focus and have the audience questing after their reverie, so much so that when the sylph is dying you want to protest and beg to be allowed to paste her wings back for the sake of a happy ending. Lund’s intensity of distress, his broken James who dares not behold what he has done is haunting. Tina Holjund was a charming earthly bride-to be all wrapped in her tartans and woollies, in great contrast to the diaphanous spirit of the woods; Lis Jeppesen, a witch who spits with force and eloquence…and how that hex downs her whiskey! Her threats - eyes gleaming eerily as she lays her curses- resembles at times those street characters prophesying the end of the world. An ultimate spit after James lies prostrate with grief and collapses, brings the story to the end. Rapturous applause, flowers for everyone, bows, curtseys and reverences to the Queen ended this performance which paid an exquisite tribute to Bournonville's work.

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