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Danish Ballet - 'A Folk Tale'
by Kate Snedeker
March 19 and 24, 2004 --
The Royal Theatre - Gamle Scene, Copenhagen
For one raised on the North American
dance diet, ranging from Petipa and Ashton to Robbins and Balanchine,
a first encounter with the choreography of August Bournonville is an eye
opening experience. However, there is no better introduction to Bournonville's
unique blend of dance and mime than the Royal Danish Ballet's magical
version of "A Folk Tale."
Inspired in part by Danish folklore and Hans Christian Anderson fairytales,
"A Folk Tale" is a fanciful story about changeling babies, trolls
and the power of Christian love. It is one of the few Bournonville ballets
to be set in Denmark, and the current 1991 production, staged by Frank
Andersen and Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter, is set in the time of Frederik
II, 1559-1588. However, Queen Margrethe II, who designed the sets and
costumes, did choose keep the villagers in the Bournonville-style skirts.
The ballet begins in the country, where Junker Ove, a nobleman, and his
tempestuous bride-to-be Birthe are being served lunch. Their elegant picnic
takes place in the shadow of a hill rumored to be the lair of trolls.
Birthe is in fact a troll, switched as a baby with the beautiful Hilda,
who later becomes the object of Ove's love. It takes another two acts,
but as with all Bournonville ballets (save "Les Sylphides"),
the power of love and Christianity prevail, and Hilda wins the heart and
hand of Junker Ove.
In the Bournonville tradition, the ballet is split into distinct dance
and mime sections, the mime receiving greater emphasis. Gudrun Bojesen's
Hilda is one of the few characters given extended ballet solos, and with
her radiant smile, Bojesen brought a wonderful mix of youth and elegance
to the stage. Her solos demonstrated a deep knowledge of the Bournonville
aesthetic: her dancing was fast, precise and gave the impression of skimming
across the stage -- yet never sacrificing the elegant but understated
epaulment that is so vital to the style. Her extended balances were impressive
without slipping into flashiness, and one could easily see why Kenneth
Greve's Ove was so instantaneously and completely captivated with this
The role of Junker Ove is mostly conveyed through mime, with little dancing
other than a short solo in the second act. Greve's mime was clear and
emotive, but at times he seemed to lack a spark to match the humanity
and freshness with which Bojesen imbued her role. Yet, with Greve's unforced
regality and his supportive partnering, one could see why Hilda was so
enthralled with this Ove.
But "A Folk Tale" is not just a simple love story, and it is
the humor and folk dance which really give life to the story. The corps
de ballets were outstanding in the first act, bringing energy and enthusiasm
to the rollicking, heel tapping folk dances. The dancers seemed to relish
in the characterizations, demonstrating their well-honed mime skills and
excellent comic timing. Dawid Kupinski stood out in a brief solo and in
his role as the impish leaders of the villagers.
Kenn Hauge and Mogens Boesen brought the troll brothers, Viderik and Diderik,
to colorful, outrageous life. A bold and delightfully rapscallious Diderik,
Boesen looked especially outlandish in his red and purple party cloak
and seemed to have much fun with all the little details in the party scene.
Hauge was especially endearing as the trodden upon younger brother, Viderik,
but still devilish enough to be believable in his bewitching of the peasants
and helping Hilda to escape. Though small in stature, Eva Kloborg was
a commanding presence as Muri, the troll sorceress, needing but a steely
glance to control her trollish offspring.
Closing out the second act, the troll engagement party scene is uproarious,
but a delightfully outrageous bash! The comically grotesque party guests
comprise the full range of trolls and other fairy tale creatures, each
brought to life by inventive costumes and characterizations. The dancers
seemed to be having a great deal of fun animating the outlandish characters.
Equally enjoyably comic was Gitte
Lindstrøm's Birthe, the troll baby brought up as a woman of the nobility.
Yet, no amount of proper upbringing could hide her trollish nature, and
Lindstrøm was wonderful in her wild, high kicking dances and temper tantrums,
interspersed with moments of near complete grace. Feisty, wacky, tempestuous
-- and what a head of red hair! Louise Midjord was also notable as Birthe's
put-upon maid who takes the brunt of the trollish temper tantrums.
The final wedding scene brought the ballet to an elegant and festive end.
Of all Queen Margrethe's costume creations, Hilda's wedding dress is by
far the most stunning. A long, shimmering
pale blue gown over a pink underdress, it is embroidered at the bodice,
sleeves and hems with pastel shaded flowers. Hilda's bridesmaids, danced
by the older of the many wonderfully rehearsed Royal Danish Ballet school
students, were dressed in similar dresses, though simpler and of a different
The pas de sept was agilely performed by Nicolai Hansen, Thomas Lund,
Vincent van Webber, Susanne Grinder, Camilla Holst, Tina Højlund and Amy
Watson on Friday and Andrew Bowman, Morten Eggert, Kristoffer Sakurai,
and Diana Cuni, Holst, Højlund and Grinder on Wednesday. All are well
schooled in the Bournonville style, but Lund stood out for his gravity-defying
ballon. Wednesday's male cast was superb, with Bowman's beautifully finished
double tours to fifth, Sakurai's power and fast feet and Eggert's energy.
Watson, Højlund and Cuni stood out among the women.
Bournonville liked a happy ending, and here even the trolls find joy in
the end. So too, does one fortunate enough to see the Royal Danish Ballet
in "A Folk Tale"!
The lighting designer was Steen Njarke, with the Royal Danish Orchestra
conducted by Robert Reimer playing Niels Gade and JPE Hartmann's music.
Edited by Lori Ibay
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