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Royal Danish Ballet - 'Napoli'

by Kate Snedeker

March 27, 2004 -- The Royal Theatre - Gamle Scene, Copenhagen

In Saturday night's performance of "Napoli," Copenhagen audiences saw one of the major debuts of the 2003-04 ballet season as talented corps member Kristoffer Sakurai danced the role of Gennaro for the first time.

"Napoli," a fanciful tale about Gennaro, a fisherman, and Teresina, his true love, is considered to be one of the classic Bournonville ballets, but paradoxically, it is also one that has seen many changes over the years. Bournonville himself played around with the choreography while he was still alive, and later stagers -- notably, Hans Beck -- added their own touches. Today, the first and third acts are largely intact, but the original second act has been completely lost. For the current production, staged by Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter, a new second act was choreographed by Dinna Bjorn.

The ballet opens in a bustling harbor square on the beach of San Lucia in Naples as Gennaro returns with the day's catch. In one of the most dramatic balletic entrances, he leaps out towards the audience from the crowd of fishermen in the classic Bournonville grand jete croisé en avant. From this joyous beginning, Sakurai showed a fine grasp of the distinctive Bournonville mime and dance styles. He is an elegantly proportioned dancer, with a youthful energy tempered by a careful attention to detail.

Tina Højlund's Teresina was a spirited lass, a perfect match for Sakurai's hearty, youthful Gennaro. The extended fight between Teresina and her widowed mother, Veronica, allowed Højlund to show her wonderful mimetic skills, the emotions from joy to love to frustration to anger flickering across her face. Eva Kloborg was an authoritative, but obviously caring Veronica, with Niels Balle, Mogens Boesen and Kenn Hauge were excellent in other character roles. The ballabile was energetically and solidly danced.

The depth of the Gamle Scene stage is used to great advantage in the second act, which takes place in the mysterious Blue Grotto, the lair of the sea spirit, Golfo. The seemingly interwoven layers of deep blue-green set give a realistic texture and feeling to the Grotto. In this enchanted cave, the sea-nymphs dance gracefully, helping Golfo, danced with regal authority by Kenneth Greve, to weave a spell around Teresina. Though there was the occasional odd foot or arm position, the female corps was solid in Bjørn's precise and slightly ethereal choreography. In the end, with aid of an amulet bearing the image of Madonna, his love and a fantastic costume change, Gennaro is able to break Golfo's spell, and the lovers escape the Grotto and set sail to Napoli.

With the lovers reunited, the third act is a joyous, festive celebration of love, life and dance. With a host of children watching eagerly from the bridge, the whole village eventually joins in the celebration. The main dances combine a pas de sept with the traditional Italian Tarantella, the pas de sept added in the 19th century by Hans Beck. Now coached in part by principal Thomas Lund, the pas de sept was danced by Martin Stauning, Diana Cuni, Andrew Bowman, Susanne Grinder, Amy Watson, Nicolai Hansen and Claire Still. In the first solo, Stauning had boyish enthusiasm and good epaulment, but needs to be slightly quieter in the torso. Andrew Bowman showed off great power and double tours easily rotated back into neat fifth position. Among the women, Amy Watson stood out for her joyous manner and sparkling footwork.

In his solo, Sakurai demonstrated both his current talent and his future potential. He has nice elevation, elegant epaulment and crisp footwork, and it all came together in the difficult solo. Yet he clearly has more to give, and with a bit more experience in the role, Sakurai should be able fine-tune the few less-than-smooth edges that remain. Højlund soared through her solo, her dancing mixing crisp steps and fluid connections. Esther Wilkinson and the energetic Morten Eggert started the cast in the spectacular Tarantella, which spreads to involve all the dancers, firing guns and confetti. A spectacular end to a wonderful ballet with an outstanding debut!

Martin Åkerwall conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra in the score by Niels Gade, E. Helsted, H.S. Paulli and H.C. Lumbye. Costumes were by Soren Frandsen and Kirsten Lund Nielsen, sets by Frandsen and Ove Christian Pedersen, with additional staging by Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter and assistance from Christina Nilsson.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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