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Royal Danish Ballet

The Bournonville Festival  -- 'A Folk Tale'

by Kate Snedeker

June 10, 2005 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

On the final Friday of the Festival, the Royal Danish Ballet took to the stage in Bournonville’s entertaining “A Folk Tale”.  Inspired by Danish folklore and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Elfin Hill”, "A Folk Tale” tells the story of Hilda, a human child who was stolen from her cradle by trolls, Birthe, the troll baby left her in place.  Birthe is engaged to marry the nobleman Junker Øve, but when he stumbles across Hilda in the troll lair, he sets of a series of events that lead the two women back to their true identities.  In a familiar Bournonville theme, evil is overcome by good with the help of true Christian faith, here represented in part by a golden cup.

As with most of his ballets, in “A Folk Tale” Bournonville saved the bulk of the dancing for the final act: the first two acts tell the story and are heavily dependent on mime.  In Act One, which begins with a lively picnic in the forest, we are introduced to the main characters - Junker Øve, his fiancee, the volatile Birthe, and the beautiful, mysterious Hilda.  The picnic festivities do little to cheer up Junker Øve, who is despondent about his impending marriage to the economically, but not emotionally desirable Birthe.  As Øve, the tall, blond and handsome Kenneth Greve looked every bit the Danish storybook prince, nobly elegant in his bearing and dancing.

Tina Højlund in one of the finest performances of the evening deftly balanced the opposing forces in Birthe's personality - the mannered nobility of her upbringing and the trollish quirks of her birth.  Nowhere was this more obvious than in the fiendish second act solo where Birthe is alternately elegant and then clumsily troll-like.  Højlund never let the trollish antics become too vaudevillian blending technique with mime so that Bournonville’s fiendish choreography looked utterly natural.  Kirsten Simone, ever elegant in her mime, was the gentle, caring nurse.

The appearance of the trolls is marked by one of the more fantastical special effects in the Bournonville repertory.  As Junker Øve wanders alone in the forest after the picnic, the hill in the background begins to hiss and glow – the somewhat mechanical hissing of the fog machines a bit distracting  - opening to reveal Muri, the troll sorceress, her sons, Viderik and Diderik and the beautiful Hilda.

Gudrun Bojeson is perfectly cast as Hilda, a role ideally suited to her great talent in both Bournonville mime and dance.  In the second act, where her true nature is revealed in a dream, Bojesen carries the story with her elegant mime, conveyed with her whole body and expressive hands.  Her dancing has a sweet delicacy, her footwork soft, yet precise.  Bojesen is particularly striking in the signature mimetic pose of the ballet – in which she is first seen - where she hold aloft the golden cup, the key to her true birth, her other hand pointing at the cup.  Later, when she comes across the unconscious Øve, who has been danced to exhaustion by the troll-maidens after taking the golden cup, Hilda repeats the same pose sans cup.

Hilda’s delicate beauty is contrasted by the colorful, clumsiness of her two troll “brothers”, Viderik and Diderik.  Peter Bo Bendixen's Diderik, all uncouth manners and leering smile, is to marry Hilda while Lise Jeppesen’s Viderik is the winsome younger brother with good intentions in his heart.

The troll engagement party in this production has been the subject of much debate, but I find the borderline chaos quite impishly delightful.  Though having so many individually characterized trolls may pull some of the focus away from the principals, it makes for fascinating viewing. One really has to see the act multiple times to take in all the action: trolls dancing, Muri and Diderik getting thoroughly drunk in the corner, Viderik fretting, Hilda dancing and plotting with Viderik to escape the festivities.  And the dancers seem to have great fun with the various personalities.

For the first time viewer, though, it can be confusing to keep track of the vital threads of the story - Hilda and Viderik planning to escape - while all the rambunctious dancing is taking place.  Also, it would be nice to see Bojesen’s solo without other trolls sharing in the spotlight.

After fleeing from the troll cave with Viderik, Hilda comes across the prostrate Øve and revives him with a drink of holy water from the golden cup -- the power of Christianity saving good from evil.  Though Bojeson looks tiny next to Greve, the partnership works beautifully in this ballet, for her strong but sweet Hilda is a perfect complement to his tall, handsome Øve.  After Birthe, her true troll birth revealed, is married off to a foppish noble, Hilda and Øve are married in a colorful ceremony.

In all three acts, the corps was outstanding with energetic, neat footwork in the dances and pleasing, natural characterizations. When I first saw " A Folk Tale" in early 2004, I was struck by one the young corps members whose presence, charm and dancing skills stood out from all the rest. He turned out to be Dawid Kupinksi, promoted to soloist on the first night of the Festival. Kupinski appeared in the same role on this occasion, and once again was real delight to watch as a peasant and a rather rotund troll.

The concluding pas de sept was fantastic, combining the footwork of Thomas Lund with the airy jetes of Andrew Bowman and the precise tours & pirouettes of Nicolai Hansen. Diana Cuni, Lesley Culver, Femke Mølbach Slot and Amy Watson completed the septet. If there is one fault with “A Folk Tale”, it's in the quick end to the third act. It seems like the ballet rushes to a conclusion after the pas de sept, and it would be nice to see more wedding festivities, and more of the enchanting Wedding Waltz.


Edited by Staff.

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