Wanted: a Milliner specialised in comestible hats
Advance Notes on dancers scheduled for the upcoming Sadlers Wells Event
Given the low-key approach the Danes are wont to adopt when reporting on their own achievements – talking it down, some would say – the Embassy Website's enthusiasm about the upcoming Sadlers Wells week is, surely, a refreshing change !
And enthusiasm is in order, mark my words.
What one hopes will be a proper article on the very major event that was the 2005 Bournonville Festival is forthcoming, and as it was indeed a major event, that cannot be written in a twinkle of the eye, but in the meantime, might one draw two ladies to the attention of next week's London audience ?
The Danish School is reputed for its men, and accordingly one hears about town "the Danes have never produced a ballerina". For my part, having been knocked for a loop in recent history by Toni Lander, Anne-Marie Dybdal and Lis Jeppesen, inter alia, I've never quite understood what is meant by a "ballerina". Someone who looks good in a short tutu?
Be that as it may, may one present two ladies who most definitely are ballerinas ? How they look in a short tutu, though, I cannot say, given Bournonville's rather strict views on the female ballet costume !
Both are soloists (a rank equivalent to premier danseur in France).
First, Diana Cuni, a lady who, on the strength of what I've seen over the last two years, is at the present time the Royal Theatre's leading Bournonville ballerina. I may be sadly wrong, but she can probably out-dance most of our premières danseuses and étoiles here at Paris. Because the point about dancing, is to make it look easy. When a dancer can do that, it has become, on a certain special level, easy for HIM, which means that he is become a master.
The lady is small, dark, very un-Danish looking, and un-photogenic to boot, which is doubtless why she does not appear in promotional brochures (and why she is not a principal?). But this is an absolutely superb dancer, and what a many-sided technique ! Owing to the strength in her back and centre, and to her dance, that will literally grow from the music like tendrils reaching out from a vine, she is, unusually for a small dancer, every bit as elegant and interesting in the adagio passages, as in the allegro.
Diana Cuni's épaulement is truly non-pareil, she has mastered it, she rejoices and exults in it, and she is the only woman in the troupe who does. She is so confident with the épaulement, that she will dare to do what, in anyone else, would be taking tremendous risks – watch her renversés. Again, for so small a dancer, she covers a vast space, shuddering like a bolt of lightning across the stage, without, however, ever opening the articulations beyond their natural ambitus. This is possible because, rather like the interesting, and equally small, Roberta Marquez at Covent Garden, she understands the forces that lift and carry one, and rides upon them as though surfing a wave.
Her batterie in all positions, even in the most difficult turning steps, is impeccable and swift, her elevation thrilling, her landing from the jump silent as a breath. Diana Cuni also happens to be a most vivid mime, vanishing with gusto into each personage - what a portrayal of Cadet Poul!.
All these qualities allow her to abandon herself completely, and as though recklessly, to the dance. A rare experience.
Eating my hat for breakfast, yet again. Seven years back, even five years back, I would never have believed this of Miss Cuni.
The next lady to watch out for is Miss Tina Hoejlund. Although her appearance would mark her out as the brunette equivalent of a dizzy blond, with her heart-shaped face and Cupid's bow lips, this is a serious dancer, and one to be seriously reckoned with. She was seen during the Festival as Teresina in Napoli, as Birthe in A Folk Tale, as Effie in La Sylphide, and in a number of solo variations. Outstanding as Teresina, it was her work in the ungrateful roles of Birthe and Effie that gave one an insight into her special theatrical powers.
Over the past 150 years, the role of Birthe, once almost tragic, as one sees from K.A. Juergensen's book "The Bournonville Ballets, a Photographic Record", has become increasing futile and clownish. Birthe is now tricked out in shrieking orange and yellow, with a hideous red wig, and plays the fool. But what Tina Hoejlund did with it ! Never would I have imagined that, in that awful wig and costume, one could somehow make plain the idea of demonic possession - that Birthe desires ardently to be a human being, but MUST go over to the devils.
As Birthe is led off, in her folly, to a venal marriage, she turns back, looking as it were, for her human self, only to close the shutters of the soul again – well, there are few dancers in this body-obsessed day and age, who can still do such things.
In La Sylphide, Miss Hoejlund's Effie was no stodgy lump of Scots upholstery, but a sensitive and living depiction. Although the ballet was otherwise marred by garish lighting, silly sets, and by mime scenes and dancing frenzied almost to the point of mania, Miss Hoejlund's Effie was the quiet voice of taste, appropriateness and sensibility, that saved a work of art that evening for many amongst us.
The foreign press and observers were, on the whole, very taken with dancers like David Kupinski and Yao Wei, presumably because they conform to the image of what one today expects from a ballet dancer. But the pair's interpretation of the great pas de deux in La Kermesse à Bruges, was a parody of the real thing. And some of us have seen the real thing.
Now, these are people are in their very early twenties, they are foreigners, and have been with the troupe for but two or three years. They cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as Bournonville dancers, but are rather products of what today is called "Vaganova School", an athletic or acrobatic side-track that Vaganova herself would not have endorsed.
These youngsters are still at the stage of tacking on a weak and unsupported, purportedly "decorative" arm, to a poker-stiff torso. In the case of Yao Wei, one observes sky-high, uncontrolled extensions that preclude all épaulement, the end-effect being preciosity and mannierism.
Because épaulement is not a tacked-on stylistic "tic", like people who compulsively scratch their nose or pull out their hair. It is, alongside the notion of aplomb, the cornerstone of the Bournonville TECHNIQUE.
Now, I will very likely be eating my hat about Yao Wei and David Kupinski in another three years, because people change, and they may catch the ball and run with it.
Jean-Lucien Massot certainly has. Here is one example of a Frenchman who has been with the Royal Theatre since 1993, and had never, until very recently "got the point" of Bournonville. Suddenly, at about age 31 (!), as he himself acknowledges, he decided to work with his professors on it, intensely, and on the first evening, in La Ventana, I nearly fell off my chair when the fellow stepped out onto on the stage. I simply could not believe it was the Massot we had known !
He has revolutionised his technique after the age of thirty, a thing that most dancers nowadays would have neither the physical, nor the mental energy even to contemplate. M. Massot is become a Bournonville dancer of considerable authority and majesty, though in quite a different genre from his colleagues.
Caroline Cavallo is a dancer somewhat disputed outwith Denmark, where she is extremely, and as we shall see, justifiably popular. She has never gone down well with the French, as her dancing entirely lacks that hard, glittering edge of "chic", that has come in recent decades to replace dance quality and the more elusive and delicate emotions proper to mankind.
Miss Cavallo is also rather a shy person, not wont to boldly "throw it all away" as we have seen with Miss Cuni. However, those who have had the privilege of watching her over the last eighteen years, both in class – where the quality and intensity of her effort must be seen to be believed - and on stage, have seen flashes and shades of Fonteyn, not consistently perhaps, owing to her extreme shyness, but something that draws one in, and that reminds one of what Bournonville said about his ballerina Juliette Price.
Namely, that her intelligence, her truthful feeling and delicacy of gesture, might not carry well in a very large theatre, but are no less real for that.
So if anyone knows of a milliner specialised in making comestible hats, the address will likely come in handy. Otherwise, a milliner who employs fruit-and-flower decorations would do.