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Royal Danish Ballet - 'King's Guard on Amager' and 'Etudes'

by Kate Snedeker

October 2 & 3, 2004  -- Gamle Scene, The Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

On Saturday, two classic Danish ballets re-entered the Royal Danish Ballet repertory in a richly stunning evening of dance.   The program opened with the first major revival of this Bournonville Festival season, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s new production of August Bournonville’s classic “Livjægerne på Amager” (loosely translated as 'The King’s Volunteers on Amager’).  Complimenting this lighthearted tale of love and flirtation was Hal Landers’ fiendishly technical, but visually stunning “Etudes”.

Brought back to the Royal Theatre’s Gamle Scene in anticipation of next year’s Bournonville Festival, “Livjægerne på Amager” is the story of the flirtatious Edouard Du Puy, a lieutenant in the king’s volunteer guard.  Amid the Shrovetide festivities out on the island of Amager where he is billeted, Du Puy woos the local girls, but eventually realizes the error of his ways after his wife comes to partake in the festivities in disguise.  The character of Du Puy is based on real man, the Swiss-born Edouard Du Puy, a violinist, conductor and singer who performed at the Royal Theatre in the early 1800s.  Though Bournonville plays with the facts of Du Puys’ life, the ballet is an intriguing historical record of Amager at the turn of the 19th Century. 

To create a fictional world faithful to Amager’s rich history, set and costume designer Karin Betz conducted intensive research, the results of which are obvious in the charming costumes and sets.   Betz works with a limited palette of primary colors, dressing the country folk of Amager in ‘homespun’ black with wonderful detailing in blues, yellows and reds and Edouard’s wife and her friends, upper class ladies from Copenhagen in vivid shades of red-orange organdy.  Tønne’s cozy house, where the action is centered, is enclosed by deep red rafters, and small back-piece, which provides a doorway into the house.  The lush countryside beyond is illustrated by large projections.

However, it is the dancers who breathe the real life into this charming Bournonville ballet.  Peter Bo Bendixen, who danced the role of Du Puy in the premiere and in place of the injured Jean-Lucien Massot on Sunday, created a very human character.  His Du Puy was dashing and flirtatious, but still believably contrite when confronted by his wife.  It is an ideal role for Bendixen, who has developed into both an eloquent and earthy character dancer, and a solid partner.  In one of Schlüter’s new additions in this production, a dream-scene pas de cinq for Du Puy and four beautiful maidens, Bendixen’s solid partnering allowed the dancing to be beautifully smooth, each lift gliding along. 

Both Caroline Cavallo on Saturday and Silja Schandorff on Sunday were touching and appropriately elegant as Du Puy’s wife Louise, who disguises herself to teach her wayward husband a lesson.  The trickery at the festivities ends when she peels away her mask and Edouard realizes he’s been flirting with his own wife.  Schandorff in particular was a master of timing, flirting coyly with her husband, and dropping her fan at Du Puy’s feet just as he leaned in to kiss one of the local girls.

An entertaining Otto, Thomas Lund once again demonstrated why he is among the finest Bournonville technicians of his generation.  Though somewhat dwarfed by his partners in the pas de trois, including Cecilie Lassen who stood out on Sunday, Lund soared in his solos, his feet flashing in crisp, quick beats.  As the red-cheeked Trine, one of the two local maids who flirt with Edouard, Elisabeth Dam stood out for her complete and believable immersion in the character.  Also of note were the good-natured performances of Frederik Farrington, Martin Stauning and Dawid Kupinski as the local boys, Jan and Dirk.

Adding human depth and life to the ballet were the energetic corps, who soared through the various character dances during the final festivities, set to music by Mozart, Lumbye, Holm and Du Puy himself, and the many talented character dancers who fleshed out the older characters.  In particular, Kirsten Simone and Jette Buchwald gave two very different, but equally memorable interpretations of Bodil, the wife of Tønnes.  Buchwald’s Bodil was firm and sharp, a sharp slap of the table rousing Tønnes to prepare for the festivities, while Simone was firm, but patient, her power gained from age and seniority.

A world away from the giddy ‘Livjægerne på Amager’, Harald Lander’s  "Etudes" is an unadorned display of classical ballet.  Carl Czerny’s etudes, arranged by Knudåge Riisager are used in the teaching of piano students, and "Etudes" is in itself a ballet class on stage.  A lone ballerina emerges from the curtain to demonstrate the five basic ballet steps, and then the curtains part to reveal lines of black and white tutu clad ballerinas at the barre. 

The ballet is both fiendishly difficult and visually stunning, with lighting effects that highlight the movements of the bodies across the stage.  In one scene, the ballerinas at the barre are lit to that they appear as crisp, black figures against a light blue backdrop and in another dancers speedily jete across pathways of light that cross diagonally from wing to wing.  In all the scenes, former Paris Opera Ballet dancer Josette Amiel’s painstaking and precise coaching was obvious in the crisp and confident nature of the dancing.  While the dancing was not without the occasional stray arm or leg, the dancers performed with a nearly uniform timing and power, wrists flicking in one dramatic moment, the male corps jumping as one in the beats.

Making her debut as the ballerina on Saturday, Gitte Lindstrøm was serenely elegant as the Sylph and feisty in the powerful folk-dance influenced finale.   The following afternoon, Caroline Cavallo was a more kinetic ballerina, showing off her fast, precise spins and fearless jumps.  A handsome and attentive partner in the Sylphide section, Mads Blangstrup also made his "Etudes" debut on Saturday evening.  That same night, Kenneth Greve and Jean-Lucien Massot powered through the male solos, their performances determined and focused.  Greve, who replaced the injured Marcin Kupinski on Sunday, was especially impressive in both the long series of fouettes and the folk-dance influenced finale.

Sharing the stage with Greve on Sunday was the talented Kristoffer Sakurai, in yet another major debut.  Though there were a few minor bobbles in his performance, Sakurai danced with a refreshing energy and joy.  It’s a difficult role, and the quality of Sakurai’s debut performance suggests that with more time and practice, even better performances are to come.

As whole, the corps was excellent on Saturday, but looked a bit more tired and haphazard on Sunday afternoon.  At least part of the problem appeared to lie in a less precise performance by the Royal Danish Orchestra.  The music and especially the tempo is an integral part of “Etudes” and with the orchestra meandering, the dancers seemed to lose their bearings onstage.  Martin Åkerwall conducted on Saturday, Michael Schønwandt on Sunday.

Edited by Kate Snedeker and Jeff.

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