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Royal Danish Ballet

'Vers un Pays Sage', 'Etudes', 'Fancy Free' and 'La Sylphide'

by Kate Snedeker

December 27 and 28 , 2004 -- The Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

The end of December is often a bleak time for ballet fans, as the choices are generally limited to yet more performances of ‘The Nutcracker’.   This season however, there was reason for balletomanes in Denmark to rejoice as the Royal Danish Ballet injected a little spice into the holidays with mixed repertory performances on December 26 and 27.  On Monday afternoon the abstraction of Jean-Christophe Maillot's 'Vers un Pays Sage' provided a sharp contrast to Bournonville’s classic story of tragic love, ‘La Sylphide’.  The following evening, Maillot’s ballet was followed by Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” and Hal Landers “Etudes”.

“Vers un Pays Sage”, which translates as “towards a wise country”, has an otherworldly and coolly, powerful feel.  The plain backdrop and simple, flesh colored costumes (Maillot and Dominique Drillot) transfer the focus of the piece to the powerful dancing which is paced by a resonant John Adams score.  Maillot plays with both elongated and bent shapes – arms, legs and bodies alternately outstretched or retracted inwards.  In a recurring motif, the dancers raise one arm skyward, the other hand weaving around it like a bird flitting around a tree.

Amy Watson and Julien Ringdahl led the cast in both performances, sleek and powerful in the final pas de deux.  Watson was particularly memorable for her panther-like mix of fluidity and tension – every step flowing to the next, but without any blurring or smudging of movement.  A fine partner, Ringdahl should be commended for his performances on Tuesday evening, during which he danced not only the lead in ‘Vers Un Pays Sage’, but also one of the leads in ‘Fancy Free’ and a major corps part in ‘Etudes’, with just 20 minutes between ballets.

On Monday afternoon, two of the company’s premier Bournonville dancers, Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen, were powerful and poignant in Nikolaj Hübbe’s production of Bournonville’s ‘La Sylphide’.  In the story of love, both earthly and ethereal, Lis Jeppesen’s mysterious and feisty Madge brewed up trouble for Lund’s James and Bojesen’s ill-fated Sylph. 

Bojesen brought to her role a pleasing mix of delicacy and power, making the sylph tantalizingly real, but yet so unattainable.  Though she radiated power, there was figuratively and literally, a veil between her and James.  It was no wonder that Lund’s James was seduced away from his bride-to-be, danced by Diani Cuni. 

Lund’s acting is elegant and believable, if not overly emotional, but it was in the tricky solos that the depth of his talent is really revealed.   Not only are his beats fast, precise and crisp and his Bournonville jetes soaring and lightly landed, but Lund manages these bravura feats without ever losing the essential Bournonville traits – elegant epaulment and the gentle downward tilt of the head.  And so even the hardest steps look natural and effortless.  Nicolai Hansen was also impressive as James’ friend Gurn.

Mikael Melbye’s sets and costumes provided a colorful, if not entirely authentic, Scottish setting for the ballet – the kilts are oddly long and I’ve never seen a landscape in Scotland with quite those color greens or types of trees (and totally devoid of sheep!).  The corps and students from the company’s school danced regally and energetically in the wedding celebrations.  It was thus unfortunate that the orchestra was not at it’s best in this rendition of Herman Løvenskjold’s score, hitting some off notes and drifting a bit out of synch from the pace of the dancing.

The Royal Danish Ballet is no stranger to Jerome Robbins’ choreography, having danced several of his ballets before, but bringing “Fancy Free” into the repertory was a very interesting choice.  Revolving around the antics of three love-starved sailors on leave in WWII era New York City and accompanied by Leonard Bernstein’s unmistakable score, the ballet is steeped in the lore and life of New York.  Thus, there is a risk that the ‘Fancy Free’ may not ‘translate’ well for companies and audiences outside of the United States, or even beyond the East Coast.

And, on Tuesday evening, both the performances themselves and the response of the audience seemed to indicate that the ballet might not be a good fit for the company.  All the dancers were more than technically competent in their roles, but sometimes appeared to be pushing too hard and therefore depriving the characterizations of the vital naturalness and joie de vivre.   In response, the audience seemed unsure of the humor and didn’t provide the much needed energy.

That aside, Tim Matiakis was noteworthy the athletic solo, making the most of the distianct shapes of the choreography - the flexed feet, the outstretched leg, the deep second plies.  Dawid Kupinski had the right romantic impishness for the 'sweet' sailor solo, his long frame reminiscent of Kipling Houston, who used to perform the role with the New York City Ballet.  Cecilie Lassen clearly put a lot of thought into her role as the first woman, giving the character a knowing patience and spunk.

'Etudes’ was a bit rough at the edges, hampered in part by a number of very last minute principal cast changes due to injury and illness.  Hal Landers’ fiendishly precise choreography provides no cover for even the slightest mistake and in the performance turns seemed to be everyone's Achilles Heel. Gudrun Bojeson, stepping in for the indisposed Caroline Cavallo, bobbled on a pirouette, but recovered for a spot on, speedy series of turns and was sweetly elegant in the pas de deux.

Fernando Mora, making an unexpected return to the ballet in place of Mads Blangstrup, and Andrew Bowman, looking excellent after missing much of the early part of the season due to injury, anchored the four male soloists.  Though not back to his pre-injury fitness, Mora provided gracious and solid support for Bojeson, and his long, elegant lines were well suited to the pas de deux, Landers' tribute to 'La Syphide'.  Bowman was notable for the ending series of double tours finished in neat fifth position.

Making his 'Etudes' debut, Tim Matiakis was crisp and clean, excepting a tricky series of turns in attitude derriere, which also proved a challenge for Kristoffer Sakurai in his debut last month. However, Matiakis recovered quickly and later was solid in a series of quick beats.  Marcin Kupinski is one of the young talents in the corps, and with plenty of talent and power, just needs finesse to complete the package.  While his extended fouette sequence was rough in the end, he was impressive in the turns in seconde.  Both performances were solid, considering the difficult circumstances, and one looks forward to even better performances as they gain more experience in the roles.

The corps was not as crisp as in previous performances, but the overall effect was still excellent.  The rows of tutu-clad ballerinas and their partners in the finale never fails to impress and was a spectacular end for a pleasant evening of dance.

Henrik Vagn Christensen conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra on both days.

Edited by Kate Snedeker

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