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Royal Danish Ballet

The Bournonville Festival -- 'Le Conservatoire'

Tradition and continuity in the academy

by Cassandra

June 8, 2005 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

I thought I was familiar with “Le Conservatoire” [also known as "Konservatoriet" -- ed.] having seen it danced a number of times in a one act version, but in Copenhagen it has two acts and even the first act that I thought was complete in itself actually has a preceding scene. Rather than the ballet being simply about a ballet class in 19th century France, in this version the dance scene is framed by a knockabout story concerning Monsieur Dufour, the conservatoire’s pompous inspector and his amorous exploits. Much of the ballet, particularly the second act is taken up with comic episodes and a sub plot of a little girl wanting to be a dancer who is initially rejected by Dufour and subsequently befriended by the adult dancers.

For me, though, the heart of the work has to be the recreation of a Parisian studio with the girls looking as if they have just stepped out of a painting by Degas. The four leading dancers here were Yao Wei (whom I had admired so much in “Abdallah” the night before), Gitte Lindstrøm, Jean Lucien Massot and Dawid Kupinski. All were on top form. When this scene is danced on it’s own it is a sublime example of Bournonville style, and I think I prefer it that way. According to the informative historical notes on the Bournonville website, it was Harald Lander who trimmed the ballet from two acts down to one in 1942, and it reverted to its present (original) form in 1995.

The opening scene and the second act are very much musical comedy stuff with M. Dufour (Poul-Erik Hesselkilde), attempting to find a wife through a lonely-hearts column, even though he has a tacit agreement to marry his middle-aged housekeeper, Mademoiselle Bonjour (the ballet’s subtitle is "A Marriage Proposal by Advertisement"). Parading in a Paris park he thinks he’s scored a hit with the ladies only to discover that he’s been chatting up the students from the conservatoire in disguise after the dancers gang up on him to help poor Mlle. Bonjour. He finally realizes he’s been an old fool and that marriage to his faithful housekeeper isn’t such a bad idea after all.

The second act put me rather in mind of a Massine ballet, with a host of listed characters such as waiters, students, grisettes, artists, cadets and so on, many of the roles taken by the company’s wonderful mime artists. On the whole I have to say that although it was all fun I still prefer “Le Conservatoire” in the one act version I know best.

At the curtain calls a big surprise: a giant laurel wreath adorned with the Danish colours was presented to Poul-Erik Hesselkilde together with other tributes from his colleagues, which appeared in the main to be of the liquid refreshment variety. The audience was going absolutely wild. I wondered if Hesselkilde was actually retiring, but I was soon to discover that wasn’t the case because the after show reception that night was given over to a celebration of what was actually his fortieth anniversary with the company. There were lengthy speeches of appreciation and hearty cheers (all in Danish) and members of the press office were on hand to thoughtfully hand out copies of the main speech by director Frank Andersen in English.

From this I learnt that Poul-Erik had started on stage as a child, had become an apprentice and joined the company in 1967, eventually being appointed a character dancer in 1992. Andersen continued by saying “…the Royal Ballet has a tradition of which no other company can boast: the possibility of continuing your career until the age of 70. That is quite unique, quite fantastic – but of course only if you want to”. He went onto say: “It’s people like you who create a tradition – it’s people like you who ensure that our tradition goes on and on and who create the continuity from one generation to generation”.

I think that sums up just how special these dancers are, and how wonderful to know that they are acknowledged as such in their lifetimes.


Edited by Staff.

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