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Royal Danish Ballet

'A Folk Tale'

by Carmel Morgan

June 8, 2011 -- John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Washington, DC

DC doesn’t get a dose of the Royal Danish Ballet every year, and that’s a shame. The company brought a refreshing twist this June to the sometimes stuffy old ballets that routinely pass through the Kennedy Center. We see plenty of Giselles and Sleeping Beauties in the nation’s capital. Not that those ballets can’t be wonderful. They can, of course. But what a fun and unique experience it was to see “A Folk Tale,” choreographed by the Royal Danish Ballet’s young artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe (former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet) and Ballet Master Sorella Englund, after August Bournoville’s 1854 ballet of the same name.

And, speaking of refreshing, Alba Nadal wowed the audience as Miss Birthe, the young heiress who is actually a troll’s daughter, and is a victim of a switch at birth. Nadal positively glowed throughout the performance. Her face radiated wit and spiritedness, and her dancing did this as well. Nadal benefited from juicy choreography, and her seizures (when her troll nature kept bursting forth) were supremely funny. Hilary Guswiler, on Wednesday night, danced the part of Hilda, Miss Birthe’s switched-at-birth counterpart. Guswiler, long hair dangling loosely, moved in stark contrast to Nadal. Guswiler floated and exuded poise, leaving no doubt about her actual identity, even amidst her naughty troll siblings and neighbors.

The real star of “A Folk Tale” may have been the fabulous set and costumes by Mia Stensgaard and the lighting design by Mikki Kunttu. These fanciful elements transported the ballet into a true mythical, magical world. Oversized insect wings patterned much of the stage. Grayish green light poured through delicate cutouts in the wings. It was as if a dusty old sketchbook book had fallen open before our eyes. Shadows danced around. Costumes included top hats, bonnets, stockings, and long skirts. A faded, sort of Victorian sensibility filled the space. Most splendid, though, were the imaginative and sometimes sweetly creepy costumes of the various creatures of the troll realm. Some creatures sported tails, others wacky noses or fuzzy heads or no head whatsoever in one case. They could have been a band of misfits from a Tim Burton movie.

Reasonably adept dancing characterized the overall performance. While the humans danced in a rather stiff and composed style, the troll world denizens, grotesque and distorted, lurched and hobbled. All of the dancers seemed to take their roles seriously, and one never got the feeling that they were prancing about merely telling a frivolous story. To the contrary, the conviction which with the cast embraced their roles made the production exceedingly entertaining.

“A Folk Tale” didn’t dazzle with tricks, nor was it at all fast-paced. Rapid footwork and leaps didn’t really get much display until the third act’s wedding scene. The thrills came mainly from the enjoyable blend of humor and atmosphere, and the dedicated performance of the dancers. In “A Folk Tale,” artistry may have trumped technical prowess, but regardless, the evening generated great joy.

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