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Royal Danish Ballet


by Kate Snedeker

May 26, 2005 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

Though Basra, Iraq is probably best known these days from evening news reports, balletomanes have long known it as the setting of August Bournonville's exotic ballet "Abdallah".  One of the least performed of Bournonville’s existing full-length ballets, “Abdallah” was revived by Bruce Marks for Ballet West in 1985, and brought to the Royal Theatre where it lives on in this lush, lyrical production.

Like almost all of Bournonville's ballets, “Abdallah” is about love, and the obstacles that two people must face before they can finally be together.  Abdallah, a poor shoemaker, is in love with the beautiful Irma, but her mother opposes the match.  When he and Irma help to save the deposed Sheik Ismael from the soldiers of the evil Capidgi Bachi, Abdallah receives a magic lamp.  With five wicks, the lamp will grant him four wishes, but light the fifth wick and all will disappear.  Abdallah revels in his newfound wealth, but forgetting the warning, he ends up penniless and alone.  Meanwhile, the Sheik has rewarded Irma by offering her the hand of any of his eight sons. But she wants only Adballah, so the Sheik creates the requisite happy ending by adopting Abdallah, thus making the match acceptable to Irma's mother.

In comparison with some of the more recent Bournonville productions, “Abdallah” is richly decorated.  Jens-Jacob Worsaae’s sets and costumes abound with color and decoration.  The ancient city of Basra, the port visible in the background, bustles with tradesmen, veiled women and even has a working fountain.

Abdallah's harem and the Sheikh's palace are brought to life in a palette of deep hues and valuable metals, a world that is lush without being overdone.  The background paintings, remarkably lifelike, bring a natural depth to the scenes - it's not a world that ends at the stage wall.  The colors of the sets are echoed in the costumes, the finest being Sheik Ismael's stunning deep hued robes, worn with magnificent grace by Peter Bo Bendixen, and Fatime's swirling red & gold formal dress and veils.

Out of this lively scene emerges Morten Eggert's brash, but tenderhearted Abdallah.  It's a superb bit of casting, for the darker-complexioned, powerful Eggert is visually and technically ideal for the role.  Abdallah is not a complicated character - he has a heart big enough to love Irma and wits quick enough to hide the fleeing Sheik - and Eggert portrays him as a man with his heart on his sleeve and gentle swagger.  Eggert held nothing back in solos, impressing with both soaring jetes and neat double tours.  Opposite Eggert, Amy Watson's Irma was beautiful, yet intelligent.  A tidy, crisp dancer Watson has more power than delicacy in her Bournonville dancing, a trait that works to her advantage here.

The ballet pleases with its mixture of dance and magical effects.  At this performance, the fine dancing came from the corps and soloists, including lovely solos by Femke Mølbach Slot and Yao Wei.  But just as much fun were all the tricks and treats.  Among the tricks was the magical poof of smoke and fire behind which Abdallah's humble house is stunningly transformed into a lush palace.  And then there was Irma's bothersome mother, played by the incomparable Kirsten Simone, dissolving into a soup of smoke (the ultimate way of getting rid of problematic mother-in-laws!).  A real treat was the equal parts adorable and impressive young Tobias Praetorius as the little slave Sadi.  Few ballet schools can boast of young students so poised and natural on stage.

Graham Bond conducted the Royal Theatre Orchestra in an excellent performance of H.S. Paulli's score.


Edited by Staff.

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