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Royal 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 Hilda.

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 shade.

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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