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Nikolaj Hübbe's La Sylphide


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Thank you for that! I will say I'd heard from friends that it would be impossible to tell what this production was like from reading the press there, because no matter what it was, it would get raves. :rolleyes: [hastening to add, not to imply that it doesn't deserve them.....]

I think the Sylph should be naive. Or at least can be. But I think Bournonville's Sylph WAS. (She doesn't understand the human world. She thinks James can follow her up the fireplace and doesn't understand when he does not; a wonderful metaphor, I've always thought.) I think there's was a 20th century trend to make ballet heroes and heroines darker -- that matched the taste of our times. (Though, paradoxically, some villains have become more sympathetic (Hilarion, Gurn). ]

I will say that one sylph I interviewed for my book talked about how Kronstam would encourage them to age their characters as they aged (which had been his approach) rather than trying to keep the character looking perennially young, and both Ryom and Jeppesen used the example of his saying, "perhaps you should change it a bit, you're not so young and innocent any more". Not to say that others won't have a different view or interpretation, but just to offer an idea about how the roles have been viewed.

Edited by Alexandra
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HEY :)

well regarding decor for Etudes I dont think that the current set is that bad... i mean in Etudes I really dont look at anything else but the dancers so...

I agree that it should NOT be a studio set - and i also think that statues of some people would only distract.... it should be a perfect frame for the dancers to look their best and nothing more... :cool2:

Etudes is about what you see them do - the adagio section is about adagio and the pirouette section is about pirouettes...

- therefore if you suddenly put items on stage it doesnt make sence... Thats just my thought :)

regarding a almost hole other thing - how many of you guys are coming for the 2005 festival??? its actually closer then you should think.... tickets are already on sale this spring...


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Tobi Tobias writes about the Danish Ballet's La Sylphide in her Arts Journal blog:

THE DANES AT HOME She liked Lund's James; I've quoted that paragraph here -- but the whole review is interesting, I think. For our European readers who might not know her, Tobias has long had a special interest in the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1979, inspired by the Bournonville Festival, she began an Oral History Project on the company and its Bournonville tradition, interviewing the dancers of that generation -- many of them who are now deceased (N.B. Larsen, F. Bjornsson, K. Ralov, F. Schaufuss, Bruhn, Kronstam, Brenaa). The tapes of these interviews are in the library of the Royal Theatre -- some were transcribed, others just in tape form. In case anyone is interested. :)

Thomas Lund, an exemplar of the Bournonville style, played James.  At the peak of his performing career, Lund offers his technical prowess as a given.  His space-seizing leaps, shaped with infallible grace, float in the air; their landings are confident and lushly cushioned.  Swift and rhythmically precise, the multiple beats that adorn his jumps bring to mind the heartbeat of a bird.  Timing is everything in Bournonville, and Lund gives the choreography, in danced and mimed sequences alike, the musical phrasing essential to it.  In this new production, though, Lund has come alive as an actor for the first time.  Perhaps modeling his approach on Hübbe’s own dramatically fervent James, Lund creates a powerful and original temperament.  In his James, the appearance of the Sylphide suddenly awakens an overwhelming unconscious desire to escape the world he knows.  This James is utterly disconcerted—even to the brink of madness—by the prospect of abandoning the familiar for the fatal attraction of the unknown and irrevocably doomed to do so.  Lund takes the risk of working at the outer margin of control and it makes for the kind of theater in which the performer himself, caught, all senses aflame, in the middle of the story being told, doesn’t appear to know how it will end.
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As I predicted others dancer would change the performance. Due to injury, Kenneth Greve did not dance James on tuesdays performance, but the lead was danced by Silja Schandorff and Mads Blangstrup, who have danced the parts previously together and has proven themselves a killer kombination in this ballet.

On Tuesday Mads Blangstrup did a particulary fine James. His dancing was superb. He jumped well and even though he is in the Erik Bruhn school of tours en airs (doing all three in the same direction as opossed to going both ways - the more difficult version) they were spot on. The special quality of Mads Blangstrups dancing is how well he gets the dramatic context interfused with the dancing, which is so crucial for La Sylphide. Another feauture with Mads is, that although he is not the greatest technician in the RDB, his teqnique always raised to the challenges and perform on the required level. Unlike Thomas Lund he never disappears or is overshadowed by the noisy colours and clansmen.

He is so much the focal point that Silja Schandorffs La Sylphide is delegated to second place. She had very beautifull jumps and danced well but it looked like Hubbe has coached her to perform a more innocent and sweeter Sylph. I prefered her normal fatal ice maiden interpretataion and hope she will return to this interpretation as it does makes the drama stronger with Blangstrups passionate, young and wild James (as opposed to Thomas Lunds innocent James).

Blngstrup has the glamour and hunkiness, that is needed for James. He is born leading man material and has a certain resemblance in his dancing and acting to Henning Kronstam, although he is fair and Kronstam dark.

Mette Bødcher as Madge was not a revelations. She seems more like a ghost than like a witch. Bøtcher specials has always been an ability to get the audience to like her. She is so likeable and positive a performer. When she dances one of the sylphs in Etudes, she overshadows Caroline Cavollos ballerina woth her personality. But she cannot use this ability in Madge and is therefore rather bland. I thhink she would have been better placed as Effy, as thes teams is set to match the tower, that is Kenneth Greve.

This is probably the reason for giving Maria Bernholdt the parts as Effy. The costume does not become her and she lacks the that cute girl next door, that has worked so well for previous Effys. Hans Brenna in particular used a certain type of girl Arlette Weinreich, Eva Kloborg, Ann Kristin Hauge for the part.

Young Nicolai Hansen is obiuosly considered a coming Bournonville man danced Gurn, but he still has some maturing to do. Marie Pierre Greve was an elegant 1. Sylph and is one of the best to dance this part since Mette-Ida Kirk, who had to make do with this untill she, quite late in her career finally got the chance to show how stunning a sylph she was.

Re. the decir. I asked Frank Andersen st the introduction whether the decor is idetical with the Stockholm, and he assued me that there were significant changes. Allthough he could not really recall what they were.

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Great news from RDB!

Nikolaj Hübbe will guest in the role of James three times with three different Sylphs.

October 16:

Sylph: Gudrun Bojesen

James: Nikolaj Hübbe

Madge: Lis Jeppesen

October 22:

Sylph: Silja Schandorff

James: Nikolaj Hübbe

Madge: Mette Bødtcher

October 24:

Sylph: Caroline Cavallo

James: Nikolaj Hübbe

Madge: Lis Jeppesen

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There seems to be this pattern of men making work and appearing in it (Bournonville, Martins for a bit, Hubbe now). Don't get me wrong, I think that he is going to knock my socks off--and expect nothing less---but just wondering how others feel about this?

My two cents about Silja: I felt like I watched her eyelids for the entire ballet--as she spent most of the time looking about 45 degrees to the floor. Mind you, I was in the orchestra so it wasn't a matter of seeing the top of her head as well.

And a question: in the original libretto, i believe, there used to be a mime scene after the Slyph's opening variation with James and Gurn that more clearly indicated their troubled relationship. Has anyone ever seen this done? I think that Flemming Flindt stuck it back in a while ago when he set the ballet in the states?

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Dear Effy,

Would you mind expanding on what Mette-Ida Kirk's Sylphide was like? I just LOVED the way she danced -- a fascinating combination of accuracy, impetuousness, lightness, reticence, fastidiousness -- marvellous line, w unique way of seing her head, and what timing!! I just LOVED the way she danced... (which I've only seen on video).

I'm told Balanchine liked her....

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Regarding Mette-Ida Kirk at the Sylph, a part she got too late, but was wonderful in. She was the first one I have seen who managed to convey the fact that TheSylph is not human, but a fairy and a creature of nature. Having wanted to see her Sylph for years it was a true revelation, She was also the first Sylph for a number of years to really dance the part and I remember vividly her fantastic jetes. When she jumps the stages diagonally after the divertissement she was actually flying. Due to the casting decitions of RDB in Frank Andersens first tenure she had three different James for her first thrre performances, Arne Villumsen, Fernando Bujones and Johnny Eliasen. I remember her dead scene vividly. again she did not die as a human being, she whitered as a true sylph. Part of her performance can be seen in a film by Jørgen leth, I think it is called Stories of Love. For good Mette-Ida Kirk dancing I can also recommend Jørgen Leths Dancing Bournonville and Anne Vivels Henning Kronstam movie where she dances Myrtha. Seing the snippets as Myrtha you will get a feeling of how she would appear as the sylph. There is also a solo as Myrtha preserved on The Queen of Denmarks birthday gala. When she is finiehed you can see tears in the eyes of Her Majesty. Mette-Ida did not get the recognition she deserved, nor did she get all the parts she should have had even though she was loved by public and critics. Some may have to do with the fact that she had long and hard injuries, but like no dancer I have ever seen, she managed to come back each times on top form. For the first part of her career she was frequently paired with Ib Andersen, and when left for NYCB there were not many suitable partners save Arne Villumsen, who had to partner everyone. I know she had an offer from NYCB following being spotted by Mr B, but declined probably realising that her psycique was not up to it. In generel I would say, that I have never seen any dancer, not even Silja Schandorff be better than Mette-Ida in any parts she hasdanced. Unfortunately she never got the chance with Giselle, Onegin, Thersipchore and others. But everytime I see the last solo in Napoli or the first Sylph I am allways made aware of her wonderful style and made too aware how difficult it is to achive. At least I have never seen its match. It is a similar experience to the first male solo in Napoli Act III and La Conservatory. No one since Ib Andersen has been able to conquer them

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An older and Wiser James

Last time Nicolai Hubbe danced James he was presenting the ultimate Turbo James. Evening little gesture pumped to the max by the man who rightly claimed I have never underplayed anything on stage. It was a performane almost killing the performance.

This times around as the the director and still not back in top form after injurys. Hubbe in my mind managed to perform a much better James, by being more subtle in his approach. The dancing may be a little weaker than before, but his interpretation won big by being more nuanced and clearer. Gudrun Bojesen has a wonderfull lightness and sweetness as the Sylph, but could be more dramatic. It is almost a seduction by change. Lis Jeppesens Madge is still a work in progress. She has changed hair and make up, but is still a bit of mark. Christioa Olsson was powerfull and sparkling in Etudes supported by three men Massot, Thomas Lund an Mads Blangstrup, who seeamed to have divided the difficults bits between them.

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The company members not on the stage were obviously in the house last night to see Hübbe and the newish cast of Etudes (I love it when you can hear them all in the back of the orchestra cheering on their friends)

I'll second Effy's post (though can't say that I have the ability to compare this James to one in years past). Hubbe seemed to be thoroughly involved with the ballet, not simply filling his role and then watching all the others that he had coached. I was most impressed by his use of stillness in the mime sequences. There have been criticisms of the tempo here, but I think that this might be due in part to the "mushy mime" that sometimes happens. With this James you had some time to digest what was said and let it register.

Particularly sweet, was the somewhat befuddled Bojesen at the curtain who against her will kept getting dragged into the limelight by Hubbe who, after taking his flowers from Frank Andersen and a solo bow, refused to go up alone again--and so they had a funny little bit of bowing to each other, knowing that the foot stomping was indeed in his direction. (This isn't to say that Bojesen didn't deserve her fair share, she has a lovely and innocent quality about her--especially when first appearing at the window)

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Hubbes James as well as the Apollon I caught in aarhus both showed very intelligent and musical interpretations by the mature dancer. For me this James surpassed all his earlier effort. I must agree that there was plenty of time to read his mimes.

However I cannot fully agree with you regarding the growing tendency from others dancers and friend to form a claque (I think it is called. In Danish the word is klakør).I think they should join an entusiastic house but not try to build one. bournonville was very opossed to claques, and I mustagree with him. No one espicially people on the payroll of the theatre should engage i that sort of activity

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Oh, they weren't being obnoxious in the way that sometimes occurs when a large group of young dancers are trying to show their appreciation as if it were a basketball game--but it was just nice to hear a few bravo's from the back of the house in (yes carbro, i agree) fond appreciation for their friends and mentors.

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Since I was flying in and out of Copenhagen on my way to Tallinn, I decided to stay in Copenhagen during the last two days of my trip. I was able to see the Royal Danish Ballet's double bill of La Sylphide and Etudes on 16 October. The original cast was Gudrun Bojesen (Sylph), Lis Jeppesen (Madge), and Thomas Lund (James). Nikolaj Hubbe replaced Lund.

I'd never seen the Royal Danish Ballet before. I'd seen a production of La Sylphide staged by Peter Martins for the Pennsylvania Ballet and performed by Tamara Hadley, William DeGregory, and Robin Preiss, and Etudes by ABT, performed by Marianna Tcherkassky. But my only exposure to the RDB style was second-hand, through these and Stanley Williams' stagings of Bournonville Divertissements for NYCB, and through films and performances by former RDB dancers, like Bruhn, Martins, Andersen, and Luders. So my context is limited, and I'd appreciate it if someone could give me the proper one if I'm way off the path.

My expectation for the Sylph was that she is supposed to be an other-worldly spirit, a contrast to down-to-Earth -- literally and figuratively-- Effy, living by a non-human code, and oblivious to the inevitable ramification of being "captured" by a human. While the grudge between Madge and James and Madge's revenge furthers the story line and brings it to dramatic conclusion, I would expect that, allegorically speaking, being domesticated in a relationship should have killed her as well.

Gurdrun Bojesen is a tall dancer. To me she looked like she had a short torso and long legs; that could have been exascerbated by the style of the costume. Her dancing was rather athletic, and her characterization struck me as being too close to Effy. I got the impression that she was a cleaned-up, more refined Wellesley-educated version of Effy, but not from another plane. In general, I found her dancing hunched over from the waist, and her shoulders bowed inward, like a tall girl trying to appear small and delicate. The exception was when upstage center in profile, she performed a gorgeous, soft, effortlessly stretched arabesque with her arms crossed and her head high.

But oh what feet! Strong, completely controlled on point -- not a single wobble, even though she had to stop on a dime repeatedly -- and wonderfully articulate. The only other dancer I've seen for whom there is that little distinction between feet and toe shoes was Suzanne Farrell, who had a little more roll-through than Bojesen. And among the Sylphs, there were more such miracles. I so wished that I had seen Bojesen in a more modern role, or even in Balanchine's Serenade.

I don't know how "big" Madge's performance is supposed to be, but I thoroughly enjoyed Lis Jeppensen's rendition. Generally, over-the-top performances make me yawn and roll my eyes, but she infused the stage with a pervasive energy, and after her first scene, the warning of her presence was there, even when she was not on stage.

I thought Nikolaj Hubbe's interpretation of James -- acting and dancing -- was thuggish. In my opinion, his first act solo was different from Morten Eggert's Gurn's only in that his landings weren't as loud. I felt that he lurched with his upper body to create bigger movement, which marred both the position and the line. I was more impressed with the way Eggert performed those beautiful juxapositions of direction and epaulement in the choreography.

I never saw any sense of wonder or conflict in his character. I got the impression that he was used to getting what he wanted; that he was imperious and rude rather than threatened by Madge, and thought he could just use physical force to swat her out of the way. I didn't see one example in Act II where Hubbe was torn between the Sylph and Effy, or where he thought of Effy at all. To me even Albrecht in Giselle had more redeeming virtue, and that this James would have been happy to marry Effy and have the Syph on the side, as his due.

I really loved Tina Hojlund's Effy, both as a character and her dancing. I was so taken by her clear leg- and footwork in the big group dance in Act I, that I couldn't stop watching her, and obviously missed James' temporary exit to follow the Syph. I just wanted to keep watching her dance that dance forever.

I was really impressed by the acting and well as the mime, especially from Effy and Gurn. Hojlund showed the disappointment of being left by James and her reluctant acceptance of Gurn's proposal was heart-wrenching. But I was glad to see that after the hurt, she didn't sulk her way through the wedding, and that she was with Gurn, who obviously adores her, rather than subjected to the brutish James.

That wasn't the conclusion that I came to when I saw Pennsylvania Ballet's production, and when I saw Thomas Lund perform in Etudes, I was disappointed that Hubbe replaced him in La Sylphide. I could imagine Lund portraying a James as a young man who was torn and conflicted, based on the quick-silver changes of mood and shape I saw in Etudes.

Christina Olsson was the Ballerina in Etudes, and any idea I had that being hunched over was part of the general style was tossed aside: as the Sylph in Etudes, Olsson's arm movements came organically from her wide and open back and shoulders, and her epaulment was free and fluid. It was remarkable to see her change from style to style, making each her own. Even though she didn't have the greatest stretch or amplitude, she defined a space for herself in which she positively glowed and from which she ruled the stage.

Lund, Mads Blangstrup, and Jean-Lucien Massot danced the male roles. I didn't think Etudes was a great role for Blangstrup -- it was very exposed -- but I could see how he might make a very interesting James. He had a slightly brooding, distracted quality. In the small ensembles, I believe that it was Diana Cuni who was the standout, unless there's a corps member -- no pictures in the program for the corps -- who also looks like Maria Callas. There was also one male corps dancer who had the most wonderful carriage and danced from fingertip to toe, but he couldn't land the repeated double tours. (He was atilt to the back and left on each.) He managed to come out of each bad landing as if nothing ever happened -- those poor feet and ankles -- with the same noble carriage and presence. He was blond with short hair, as if that narrows it down :P

The theater was lovely. I wasn't surprised that the ballet audience was on the older side; I was shocked when the opera audience for Tosca the next night was so relatively young. A member of the royal family attended the ballet performance. I wondered why everyone stood up at the beginning of the ballet -- this dumb American wondered if the national anthem was about to be played -- and then all eyes were on the royal box, as an older woman in a simple but elegant wine-colored silk dress took her seat. On the whole most of the older women in the audience let their hair turn gray; it wasn't the parade of extremely bad maroon and orange and black hair dye I saw in Estonia and Finland. I've decided that these women are my heroes.

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You saw Queen Margrethe -- who lives right up the street, and comes to the ballet because she actually likes it. (Her lady in waiting sits in the box at the other side of the house. A lonely way to attend the ballet.)

Helene, I think you have a good eye. Much of what you wrote makes sense to me (although I haven't seen this production or these performances). The Bournonville Divertissements are very NYCB-Bournonville, except for Ib Andersen and Helgi Tomasson.

The body is bent forward in Bournonville -- he liked a curly, curvy line. I don't know whether it looked odd to you because you weren't used to it or because the dancer wasn't used to it; it could be either smile.gif "Etudes" is in a different style -- the version they do now is the French one, not the one Lander made for the RDB, but in either one he is aiming at a more international (i.e., a la Russe, at that time) style.

Americans often expect the Sylph to be a kind of junior second-act Giselle, all pious and ephemeral. I don't think the Sylph is that in Denmark -- although I think there's a different performance tradition here. Originally it was a neoclassical (as opposed to demicaractere) role, and Bojesen has that body: long legs, short torso. The earliest film that we have of a Sylphide, though, is a very merry, rather round ballerina. There is a playfulness to her, though. She's a life force, not a ghost.

I'm glad Tina Hojlund is back -- of the dancers I saw three years ago, she was the best Bournonville dancer among the women, and I think she's a wonderful Effy.

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Thank you so much for your reply. I wrongly assumed that the "Sylph" section of Etudes was meant to show the Bournonville style in the evolution of ballet.

I thought that the Sylph is supposed to be in many ways the opposite of Giselle, whom I could never imagine stealing someone else's fiance. But I did expected more of a contrast of temperament and style between the Sylph and Effy, to represent the difference between the relationship with someone James has known since he was a child and who will fit into his local life and the stranger -- glamorous or delicate or fine -- who represents a different world without obligation. Or even like the older women at the Catskills resort in Dirty Dancing whom Patrick Swayze describes in awe ("They really take care of themselves") in comparison to the working class older women from his home town. But maybe James was just a leg man :wacko:

I watched Queen Margrethe during the curtain calls. Since the first bow is always to her, she can't even enjoy a performance out of the direct public eye. I noticed that she was clapping a strong clap, not just a polite, public obligation clap. She did sit in the box alone, next to two empty seats. You are so right about this being a lonely way to attend a performance. I can't imagine going to the ballet alone and not being able to say something after the performance, even if to the complete strangers sitting next to me. I didn't know that was her lady-in-waiting in the opposite box (the one without the crown over it, duh). I did see a man dressed up in what looked like military dress in the box next to the royal box, and a man whose job was to pull out the Queen's chair before she was seated.

The royal box was empty for Tosca. I wonder if the bowing protocol is the same for opera, if a member of the royal family is attending. The ballet dancers grew up with the Queen, while the opera singers, at least the principals, were mostly an international lot. If they also bow to the royals, there must be a prompter somewhere to remind them, since opera singing is often a "If it's Tosca this must be Copenhagen" sort of profession.

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Hockeyfan - thanks for the great remarks (I also liked Hojlund's Effy when she did it in 2000; she also alternated with Bojesen in the role of Eleonora in Kermesse in Bruges). When I was there, Queen Margrethe had guests in the box at least one night; I believe the King and Queen of Norway. So at least she had someone to talk to!

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Hockeyfan, you might be interested in this review by Tobi Tobias, on Arts Journal:

The Danes at Home

Several posters here did not like Bojesen and Lund, thinking them too light; Tobias did, and writes why.

I think the difference between the Sylph and Effy is that one is of the air and the other is of the earth. (And your comment that Bojesen has beautiful feet -- that is considered one of the prime technical qualifications, because the legs are hidden by the full skirt, and the feet are the primary means of expression.)

There have been changes, too, in Gurn over the years. For much of the 20th century, he was a middle-aged man, comic, with red hair. To many, that seemed incongruous, and there was a push in the '60s and '70s to change this. (I don't know what the 19th century tradition was for Gurn.) "James is a Romantic boy, and Gurn is a happy boy," as Kronstam put it, and that's the way he cast it. To me, James and Gurn must be different, too -- one a dreamer, the other more grounded -- and I worry that, like Hilarion, Gurn is becoming more sympathetic.

As for James, there have been two performance traditions for him (at least; again, I'm only writing of the 20th century). Some have insisted that James be a peasant (that's the Realist Party speaking). Others that he is a dreamer; a hunter, yes, but also a dreamer.

As for "Etudes," I think the Sylphide section is supposed to be soft, but with a (then) contemporary softness (?) Perhaps not originally, when Margot Lander did the role -- she wasn't a Sylph. But in the revision with Toni Lander (which I've only seen on video) it seems as though Lander is not only moving her out of the classroom and onto the stage, but turning the Sylph into a Swan.

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Thank you for the link to Tobias' review. I am so sad that Hubbe replaced Lund :wacko: Although, given how much she loved Bojesen, I'm not sure we saw the same performers :) I guess I felt that Bojesen's Sylph wasn't offering an alternative to a bourgeois world, but a bigger house and a richer father-in-law.


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