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Peter Schaufuss Ballet - 'Harald'

by Kate Snedeker

June 29, 2005 -- Opera House, Copenhagen

Continuing the centennial celebration of the great Danish balletmaster and choreographer, Harald Lander, the Peter Schaufuss Ballet appeared at the new Opera House for the first time with Peter Schaufuss' "Harald". In a mixture of dance and word, "Harald" endeavors to tell the story of Harald Landers from his experiences as a young ballet student through his turbulent years at the Royal Danish Ballet, as well as paying tribute to his choreographic genius. While fascinating at times, and a showcase for Schaufuss' talented dancers, it falls short of creating a widely appealing tribute to Landers.

The first act tells the story of Harald Lander's life from his entry into the Royal Danish Ballet School through nearly four decades until his scandal-driven dismissal as director of the Royal Danish Ballet. The onstage dance is punctuated by long excerpts from Landers' autobiography, "Thi Kendes For Ret", read by Søren Saetter Lassen. I found the heavy dependence on the excerpts to explain and connect the balletic sections somewhat unfortunate as the ballet seemed to lose some of its cohesion and meaning when one could not understand the Danish (the ballet is clearly aimed at Danish audience and a translation was provided).

Schaufuss has assembled a talented group of dancers, though the esteemed veteran Danish dancer Adam Lüders (as Landers' father) aside, there is not a single Dane listed in the regular company, intriguing for a company based in Denmark and performing ballet about a Danish dance legend. In the opening scenes portraying Lander's early years, the students from the company's school featured prominently. The boys in the 'ballet class' displayed good technique, and it will be interesting to see if Schaufuss can eventually attract some of these young Danes into his ballet company.

The ballet winds through a series of vignettes, with Schaufuss' choreography eye-catching and clever, if sometimes lacking in palpable emotion. The sets -- boxes, chairs and tables -- are simple and utilitarian, highlighted by stark lighting. As the adult Lander, Ukrainian Andriy Lytvynenko was outstanding, moving with smooth elegance and whipping off impressive technical feats with unforced precision. One of the highlights came in the portrayal of Lander's Cossack dance lessons in which Lytvynenko and Josef Vesely brought down the house with their high kicks and ménages of barrel turns.

The vignettes illustrating Landers' relationship with his two wives, Margot (Caroline Petter) and Toni (Talia Evtushenko) Lander, and the female corps of the Royal Danish Ballet were the weakest in the a ballet. Involving contortions around a gray, wooden block and an excessive amount of vulgarly spread legs, the choreography felt gratuitous and uncomfortable. Though certainly Lander was no angel, in portraying his supposed indiscretions, less would have been so much more. After all, the implications are already clear in the spoken excerpts.

The second act is one continual piece, a modern ballet set to a long version of Ravel's "Bolero", clearly influenced and inspired by Lander's masterpiece, "Etudes". The dancers are contorted -- alone or in pairs -- in metal cubes, lit one by one from stage right to left. Only the top half of the cubes are lit, so the dancers seem to hover in the metallic frames as they slowly move in time to the haunting notes of "Bolero".

Eventually, the dancers emerge from the cubes, which when righted turn out to be ballet barres, positioned much like the barres in "Etudes". The dancers in front dance - no two dancers doing quite the same steps - a collection of twisting, lithe bodies all moving to the throbbing beat. Behind them emerge more dancers who line up on the other side of the barres proceeding through a series of plies to releve up to demi-pointe, back down and so on. As "Bolero" reaches its crescendo, the dancers line up, and flip the barres down, to reveal the letters H - A - R - A - L - D, spelled out by the metal framework. Fascinating, though eventually repetitive, it unique tribute to Landers even if Schaufuss' choreography pales in comparison to "Etudes".


Edited by Staff.

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