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Royal Danish Ballet

The Bournonville Festival - 'Abdallah'

by Cassandra

June 7, 2005 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

My first ballet of the Bournonville Festival was “Abdallah”, a gorgeous Arabian Nights style concoction about the love of a poor shoemaker (the title character) for the beautiful girl next door, Irma. But Fatima, Irma’s mum, is having none of it and considers poor Abdallah to be a totally unsuitable match for her daughter.

Fate takes a hand when popular Sheikh Ismael, currently on the run and out of favour with the country’s ruler, is hidden by Abdallah in his home. As a reward he receives a gift of a magic five-branched candlestick which when lit the first four times will grant a wish, lit a fifth time however and he will lose the lot.

Abdallah reacts like a lottery winner out on a spree, acquiring a palace, posh clothes, a banquet and a bevy of beautiful girls in quick succession.  And, surprise, surprise, Fatima changes her mind about his suitability for her daughter. Irma however is unimpressed -- she loved the old Abdallah, not the strutting nouveau riche. Eventually he uses another wish to send his would-be mother in law disappearing through the floor. Realizing that this isn’t the life for him, Abdallah lights the last candle and everything disappears.

In the third and final act all the loose ends are tied together with Sheikh Ismael regaining power and offering Irma the choice of any of his eight sons (a very good looking bunch they are, too). But she refuse as she still loves her Abdallah of old. The sheikh takes pity on Abdallah and adopts him and the lovers are finally united with a happy ever after assured.

“Abdallah” is unique among the ballets shown in the Festival in that it is a reconstruction of a work previously thought lost. The archaeology in this case was carried out by Bruce Marks, who managed to obtain some original material relating to the ballet from Sothebys, and with the assistance of his wife Toni Lander and Royal Danish principal Flemming Ryberg, they reconstructed the work in America in 1985. “Abdallah” was then staged back in Denmark the following year with Sorella Englund joining the original team. As far as I could see, the only indication of this not being original Bournonville is that there is possibly less mime in this ballet than one might expect, and it is to the credit of all concerned that the actual choreography looks authentic.

I found watching “Abdallah” a highly enjoyable experience.  In some ways it’s reminiscent of “Le Corsaire” with its Middle Eastern setting, but without any unsavoury subplots about slave dealing and the buying and selling of young women. Of course Bournonville was a very moral man and even the relatively tame goings-on of “Abdallah” must have struck 19th century Danish ballet goers as a risqué subject for their favourite choreographer: nowadays of course its all good fun.

In the title role, Morton Eggert was wonderfully funny as a simple man suddenly endowed with magic powers and dancing brilliantly all the way through, from his bucolic hoofing with his fellow shoemakers through to romantic duos with the lovely Irma (Amy Watson). Of course in this kind of ballet there’s often a scene-stealer who grabs the applause from under the principals noses; and in this case it was little Tobias Praetorius, mega cute in his little turban and running rings round the adults. I was also very taken with Yao Wei as one of Sheiks Ismael’s daughters and later learned that she had been elevated to the rank of soloist only the night before.

The sets and costumes were sumptuous with oriental style costumes for the male dancers and for the girls, those typical Bournonville style full-skirted dresses that are so very flattering. The music is by one of Bournonville’s regular collaborators, Holger Simon Paulli, and is attractive and tuneful without any pseudo-orientalisms creeping in.

After the performance there was a reception in honour of Bruce Marks, who related the story of how he first came by the “Abdallah” manuscript and how he managed to obtain funding for the first production. Marks is an excellent speaker and an amusing one too: in response to an earlier comment that he looked wonderful, he told us how a famous orchestral conductor had once remarked to him that there are three ages of man: youth, middle age and “you look wonderful”! I’m going to remember that one. Actually Mr Marks you don’t just look wonderful, you are wonderful.

 

Edited by Staff.

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