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Royal Danish Ballet

'Lost on Slow' and 'La Syphide'
Nikolaj Hübbe's final performance

by Kate Snedeker

April 2, 2008 -- Copenhagen

The Royal Danish Ballet has bid farewell to one of its greatest dancers, and bid welcome to their next artistic director. It's fair to say that while this was his last dancing performance, Nikolaj Hübbe's proper farewell to the stage was several months ago in New York City. This evening was more of a welcome - a warm greeting to the next artistic director.

As with the prior La Sylphide double bill, the evening began with Jorma Elo's "Lost on Slow". Tonight's cast included Jean-Lucien Massot and Fernando Mora, along with Tim Matiakis, Kizzy Howard, Alba Nadal and Amy Watson. It's intriguing that neither cast includes any Danish members. Is this a first for a Royal Danish Ballet production?

Mikkel Futtrup was once again superb in the extended violin solo, backed by the Royal Danish Orchestra. Massot and Mora bring a slightly different aesthetic to the piece than previous casts have brought, with Mora, especially, delivering a brisk sensuality. Unfortunately, the piece continues to be plagued with technical issues - last week the curtain was lowered on the bowing dancers, tonight backstage lights were not turned off, illuminating parts of the rear stage area which should not have been visible.

However, the moment that the sell-out audience was waiting for came in the last two acts. With Silja Schandorff, in her final appearance as the Sylphide, and Sorella Englund returning to be his Madge, Nikolaj Hübbe took to the stage for the final time as a dancer. When he returns to the stage, it will be -- at long last -- as director of the company where he trained, danced and taught.

It was, perhaps, not the finest performance of "La Sylphide" the company has ever given, but it was the emotion that counted. And it was emotion that seemed to carry Hübbe and Schandorff through roles that physically challenge dancers half their ages. Hübbe's jumps don't soar the way they used to, but his feet fly as fast as ever and his épaulment is simply gorgeous. His is a thoughtful James, never entirely convinced about marrying Effy, yet devoted to her until his thoughts turn to the Sylph. His final moments of emotional agony are heartwrenching.

Englund's Madge is a marvel of detail woven into a character who is believable despite her outlandish appearance. It should be noted that Englund wore a costume from the previous production, which is now on loan to the Royal Ballet in London, where Englund has danced the role. I assume that it did not make sense to create or alter a costume from this production for a single performance, especially given that Englund's costume did not look at all out of place.

Hübbe got loud roars of applause after each solo, but it was after the final curtain that the Danish audience (including past and present dancers, critics and balletomanes alike) poured out its appreciation. Curtain calls for the entire cast were followed by a solo curtain call for Hübbe during which he was showered in a storm of gold confetti. The standing ovation, joined by Her Majesty, Queen Margrethe, was accompanied by a little drum roll from the orchestra. Frank Andersen presented Hubbe with a large bouquet of flowers, and there was a long exchange of words between the two men.

The standing ovation, accompanied by the pounding of feet -- a tradition here in Denmark -- lasted for several more curtain calls, the final of which included the whole cast clapping for Hübbe.

I think Hübbe really said his farewells in New York, and appeared overwhelmed by the audience response. That level of response should come as no surprise given the high regard in which he is held by his countrymen and women. I hope that Hübbe views this evening not as a farewell, but a resounding welcome (back).

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