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Bournonville double-bill: La ventana & The Kermesse in Bruges"

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On the 21st of May the RDB had their last performance of their new Bornonville double-bill: the short ”La Ventana” and the lovely comedy ”The Kermesse in Bruges”.

”La ventana” is an elegant little genre picture where Bournonville tries to capture the exotic spirit of a Spain he has never seen and only knew from the many Spanish dance troups guesting all over Europe at the mid 19th century. He himself called the piece a ”bagatelle”, and the thin love story between a Señor and a Señorita is just an excuse for a lot of dance. The choreography is exquisite and also very demanding, a kind ofshowcase for the good dancers of the company. Gudrun Bojesen, who danced the lead, when the ballet was staged last time in 2005, has been given free hands to stage and direct this little jewell.

Let me start with the dancers:

It looks to me as if Bojesen has been able to pass on some of her own finest qualities to her fellow dancers: musical phrasing and beautifully shaped movements in an artless flow. It was most visible in the technically difficult pas de trois, danced with both charm and elegance by Nicolai Hansen, Lena-Maria Gruber and Sascha Haugland: Especially Gruber stood out.

Also Amy Watson as the Señorita was absolutely lovely. Everything she did looked just right, as if the choreography was tailored on her. She and Josephine Berggreen did a perfect mirror-dance, the original scoop of the ballet. Her Señor was Marcin Kupinski, who, apart from not looking very Spanish, had some (for him) unusually hard landings in the many and probably difficult jumps, where the dancer lands in an open attitude. Normally he is light as a feather.

In some of the minor parts you could see some of the new talent: Sebastian Haynes, still an apprentice, and Luke Schaufuss, only recently risen to membership of the corps de ballet, were cast as 2 gentlemen. Both of them are full of zest and youthful spirit, but it looked like nobody had had the time to rehearse them toghether and secure just a minimum of homogeneity in style and direction.

But in general the dancing standard was high.

The staging:

Unfortunately the staging was less successful. Gudrun Bojesen has literally drowned this little gem in an abundancy of details: In order to breath some life into the thin story, she has invented an endless prologue, complete with new music for solo guitar played by a guitar player on stage and a flamenco singer in a Spanish Carmen-ish costume: A café with a servant tidying up the chairs and tables, an ageing tourist (apparently H.C.Andersen, but I would never have guessed, had I not read the programme note...) visiting the café etc. Into this setting the Señor eventually enters, brooding, seemingly depressed about something. His friends, who will later do the Pas de trois, try in vain to cheer him up. After some more singing the flamenco-singer seems to get through to him, and finally it looks like he remembers what he was depressed about: the Señorita. He throws a flower through her window, and finally the ballet can begin!The orchestra in the pit takes over from the guitar player, and the curtain raises.

I thought that from now on all would be good and the ballet could go on undisturbed. But no, there was more to come! During one of the more sensual solos (as sensual as it gets in a Bournonville ballet...) the flamenco singer suddenly starts singing her wordless tunes again, this time with the orchestra. But most unforgiveable of it all was, when the dancers started clapping their hands like in Napoli to the absolute hit of the ballet, the bolero, killing the springiness and flow of the music completely.

At least, all the changes and additions are made out of a deep love for the piece. It is Bojesen’s first attempt at staging, and that of course excuses for many of the mistakes. Maybe the dramaturgue of the theatre, Ole Nørlyng, who has been deeply involved in the production and who writes the pladoyer for the staging in the printed programme, should have known to advice her better.

”The Kermesse in Bruges” was a more homogenous succes. The production, which is staged by Ib Andersen, former principal with the RDB and later NYCB, and now artistic director of Ballet Arizona, had its premiere a month ago.

The settings by Jerome Kaplan were beautifull, both the outdoor sceneries, especially the town square in scene 1 and 4. where you have all the significant profiles of Bruges in the background and solid looking housefronts lining the wings, and the only indoor scenery inside Mirewelt’s house. Also Kaplan’s costumes were sheer delight, made of what looked like luxurious fabrics, traditional and fresh at the same time. Only the costumes of the two entertaining ballet dancers in scene 3 (in the garden of the rich widow Frau van Everdingen) were shrill in all their whiteness. They looked like they were taken out of a Petipa ballet.

Young Andreas Kaas, aged only 20, who entered the corps de ballet last year, was Carelis, the lover and admirer of Mirewelt’s daughter Eleonore. This role was danced by a very young but already stunningly secure Ib Andersen back in the 70’es. Some of the rehearsal work with him and Mette-Ida Kirk as Eleonore and substantial clips from the performance are saved for eterníty in Jørgen Leth’s documentary ”Dancing Bournonville” (it is worthwhile seeing!). Andreas Kaas did a fine job also, but he is still a bit insignificant on stage, and his dancing hasn’t the refinement of Ib Andersen or of his colleague Alban Lendorf, who alternates with him in this production. His Eleonore was Stephanie Chen Gundorph, also a very young dancer of only 20 years. She is technically very mature and has the Bournonville style very much under her skin, but I think that at least for this role she lacks some warmth and lyricism. Her Eleonore is a very strongminded character, which makes sense in many ways, as she is the daughter of an alchymist and probably has been brought up in rather unconventional circumstances.

Carelis’ two comic brothers, Adrian and Geert, were danced by Benjamin Buza and Nicolai Hansen, and they both revealed a remarkable talent for comedy. Nicolai Hansen’s Geert was irresistibel in his naive love for Marchen and in his helpless attitude towards her many fits of rage. That he was maybe a bit too foolish in the long run, is a minor flaw. Buza’s Adrian, the soldier brother, balanced cleverly between being a fool and a rather attractive piece of man. Their two girlfriends, the temperamental Marchen and her more subdued sister Johanna, were charmnigly portrayed by Alexandra Lo Sardo and Elisabeth Dam. Dam has always been a talented comedienne, her speciality being sweet-tempered but not especially clever girls. Lo Sardo surprised me be showing a dramatic talent, which I would never have expected from her. Her fits of rage and rapide changes of mood were both funny and very convincing.

The castlist is a very long one, but I’d like to mention just one more dancer, who had a very good night: Gregory Dean. He was the male ballet dancer in scene 3. Apart from the costume which made his appearance much to ”ballett’ish”, he did a wonderful job. I couldn’t help thinking that he could have done a beautiful Carelis: His youthfulness and fluid dancestyle, which is not very far from Ib Andersen’s, would have suited the choreography beautifully.

The comedy is a charming one and Ib Andersen has released all the comical potential in the story. One could sometimes have wished for more subtlety. Especially the scene with Geert and the rich widow Frau van Everdingen (Gitte Lindstrøm) were too heavy handed and so were many of the street scenes. In the first scene a jester (Luke Schaufuss) dominated the street life in a way that I felt very un-Bournonvill-ish. In many Swan Lakes you have a jester filling out all the gaps in the flow of the story, and there it works because everything is so stylized, but in Bournonville’s more naturalistic universe it just felt odd and disturbing. Maybe somebody can remember how the role of the jester was handled in earlier productions?

But all in all it was a really pleasant experience, and like all productions it needs time to develope and ripe, and it certainly has potential. Just a pity that it will not appear next year. Hopefully it will not disappear like the last production of Kermessen by Lloyd Riggins did in 2005 after only a month in the programme. I at least would love to see it again, and by the next time I will hopefully be able to catch more details.

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Many thanks for your review, Anne, and for the links to Jane's review and interview with Bojesen. As an outsider, this was the most interesting full-company program of the season to me, although I really liked Ratmansky's "Golden Cockerel." Hopefully, this is a learning experience for Bojesen, and Andersen's revival sounds delightful, if not immune to a fascination with jesters.

Jerome Kaplan re-worked his own designs for Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette" for PNB -- they were beautiful -- and he's designing the revival of "Giselle" for next season. (PNB rented the sets and costumes when it premiered, and I suspect Kaplan will not costume Hilarion with a dead fox for a collar.)

One comment more in response to Jane's review is that Andersen's lineage is through the old school at RDB, even if he was hired by Hubbe: the wonderful and, in my opinion, unsurpassed "Dancing Bournonville" shows Andersen and Kirk being coached in the ballet by Hans Brenaa. (Seeing this documentary made me fall head-over-heels in love with Brenaa.) I am so glad you wrote about this documentary: it can't be praised enough. I love the moment where Brenaa tells Kirk, who'd been struggling with the timing on her solo, that she was the only one who didn't cry.

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