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Royal Danish Ballet

'Kermessen i Brügge' and 'La Ventana'

by Kate Snedeker

May 21, 2005 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

On May 21, barely two weeks before the 3rd Bournonville Festival, “La Ventana” and “The Kermesse in Bruges” returned to the Royal Theatre stage. The two new productions, which represent the final chapter in the years long preparation for the Festival, breathe life into Bournonville’s portrayals of love in Spain and Belgium.

"La Ventana", Bournonville’s unique combination of Spanish dance and classical ballet, is a brief tale about the flirtatious meeting of a Señor and Señorita. Restaged, by the last Señor, current artistic director, Frank Andersen, the ballet was a perfect showcase for the well matched Gitte Lindstrøm and Jean-Lucien Massot.  They seemed to play off each other, enjoying the increasing challenges of choreography.  She sparkled in the Señorita's solos, packed with tricky footwork and was well coordinated with Camilla R. Holst in the Mirror Dance.  He flew across the stage in traveling beats and tour jetes, high but never heavy in the landings.

One of the highlights of the piece is the extended pas de trois, danced by Tim Matiakis, Gudrun Bojesen and Caroline Cavallo.  The female variations are characterised by extended balances and quicksilver footwork, superbly performed by Bojesen and Cavallo. Matiakis, in his just his first season with the company, has made huge strides in developing as a Bournonville artist (admittedly he did dance for Frank Andersen at the Royal Swedish Ballet, so this season is not his first meeting with Bournonville). Elegantly controlled and phrased, his dancing is exciting without being flashy.

The set for "La Ventana" by Christian Friedländer is simple, but impressive - an enormous painting of a Spanish fiesta scene which rotates in the frame to reveal a wall covering in smaller paintings.  Together with the 'dusty' rays of light filtering in from the unseen window of the title, the image was that of a room deep in a museum or old house, where a painting comes to life.

The new production of "The Kermesse in Bruges" is former Royal Danish Ballet principal Lloyd Riggins' first attempt at setting a full-length ballet.  Despite a number of last minute cast changes, it is a charming production and an impressive ‘directing’ debut.

"The Kermesse in Bruges" tells the story of three Bruggling brothers, who after rescuing the mysterious alchemist Mirewelt and his daughter Eleonore from the hands of kidnappers are presented with three magical gifts: a ring, a sword and a lute.  With these gifts in hand, the brothers set out to find fame and fortune.  The heart of ballet is the innocent, youthful romance between Eleonore and the youngest brother, Carelis; and, it is Carelis who rescues his older brothers when they are accused of witchcraft on their return to Bruges.

The sets by ballet newcomer Rikke Juellund are inspired in their simplicity.  Juellend's Bruges is outline by a series of stylized white brick buildings, the tall belltower always a visible presence.  The costumes are also a step away from the more intricate ones of the past, but are more historically accurate with the brothers dressed in off-white loose shirts and pants, the villagers in similar costumes of various shades. 

The simplicity of the sets and costumes allows Bournonville's rich mime and dance and the talents of the dancers to bring the story to life.  The audience should not need hugely detailed sets to understand the story - here the costumes deftly place the story in time and place, and the dance and dancers conjure up the story.

Though many characters play vital roles in the story, it is love between Carelis and Eleonore that provides the core to "Kermessen in Brugge".  The role of Carelis is usually given to a younger dancer at the cusp of major step forward in his career.   Riggins himself debuted as Carelis not long before being promoted to principal, and at this performance, a young corps dancer made a sparkling debut.  Dawid Kupinski, stepping in for soloist Kristoffer Sakurai, brought an endearing youthfulness and sweet innocence to his Carelis.  Opposite him was Susanne Grinder as Eleonore, also a debut.

Though not initially cast together, they are well matched with their blond hair, fair complexions and long limbs.  Grinder is sweetly elegant, a tender Eleonore, while Kupinski bubbles with innocent, earnest energy.  The showpiece pas de deux was full of promise, a few nervous moments smoothed over by sparkling footwork, excellent timing and youthful joie d'vivre.  It is definitely a work in progress as Kupinski for instance could pay more attention to his epaulment at times, but the imperfections are perhaps appropriate in this a dance of young lovers.  First love is full of jitters, and as the dancing is an expression of their love, perfection might seem out of character.

There were strong performances in a number of major and minor roles.  A real standout was Thomas Lund as the bumbling middle brother Geert, a role Lund also danced in the previous production.  Lund is a master of mime -- his Geert simple-mindedly sweet and dense, but never to gauche or silly.  He might bring little in the way of table manners to the banquet with Christina Olsson's Fru van Everdingen, but there was no doubt of his true affections for Tina Højlund's Marchen.  Højlund is Lund's equal in the art of Bournonville mime, gifted with a wonderfully expressive face, and her feisty Marchen was a perfect match for his Geert.

Peter Bo Bendixen, in his last new role as a principal dancer (newly turned 40, he moves to the character dancer ranks next season), replaced Martin James as Adrian, the eldest brother.  Bendixen brings to Adrian the appropriate eldest brother wiseness and sense of adventure.  His Johanna, Marie-Pierre Greve, is not as robust as Marchen.  Greve is not known as a Bournonville dancer, but her use of her slight build is to her advantage, making Johanna a fretful, nervous, but ultimately determined, young woman.

Riggins has chosen to portray Mirewelt more as mysterious but elegant man and less the caricatured mad scientist, and the choice of Mogens Boesen for the role reinforces this choice.  Boesen, tall and graceful of movement, gives the character an aura of mystery that rubs off on his daughter.

In other roles, Caroline Cavallo and Andrew Bowman were superb in the 'Psyche' divertissement, though the Grecian costumed piece seems a bit out of place in 17th century Bruges. Morten Eggert's Cirkusmester was a infectiously energetic whirlwind, with suitably impressive high kicks and splits in the Slovanka.  Though in previous productions, the Slowanka is a separate dance, here Riggins has opted to insert it into the Kermesse, bringing a refreshing splash of color and energy to the festive proceedings.

And finally, Maria Bernholdt's Contessa was a deliciously over the top courtesan, stopping at nothing in her flirtations with the magic-ring wearing Geert.  Her little page boy deserves special note for keeping her train safe and sound through all the dances.  If anything, though, Bernholdt could perhaps tone down just a hair so that she does not overwhelm to the point of distracting attention from the central characters.

The corps also deserves credit for a high level of energy and delightful characterizations throughout the production.  In so many story ballets, the large scenes seem to be populated by clones of a few characters, but here the village was full of individuals, each forming part of a natural whole.

If the production has any weak points, it's in the changeovers between the scenes.  Two changeovers, one of which was formerly a full intermission, involve long silent pauses during which the scrape and thumps of moving sets were quite audible.  The audience has to wait in uncertain silence for the music to restart, and thus there's an uncomfortable gap that disturbs the flow of the scenes. The final changeover with the extended procession of the condemned brothers to the stake to the beat of black clad drummers, is much more successful, as it covers up the backstage noise and provides a connection between the onstage scenes.  The antiqued curtain, also, didn't always seem smooth in coming up into various arrangements and then down again.

Jesper Kongshaug's lighting was also unhelpful in places, thrusting faces into shadows which made it difficult to read expressions and moods.

Graham Bond conducted the DR Radio Orchestra.

Edited by Staff.

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