Reviews of 'Anna Karenina' and 'Livjægerne på Amager'/'Etudes'...enjoy!
The Royal Danish Ballet
September 23 and 25, 2004
The Royal Theatre, Gamle Scene
The first month of the Royal Danish Ballet’s 2004-05 season concluded with the final two performances of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Anna Karenina”. Leo Tolstoy’s novel about love and politics in Tsarist Russia, on which the ballet is based, is quite lengthy and Ratmansky wisely chose to focus solely on the love story between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. His production combines Wendall Harrington’s massive projections, Rodion Shchedrin’s dramatic, throbbing music with powerful choreography to bring the emotional story to the stage. It’s an approach that is captivating, but not always successful, and the performances on Thursday and Saturday evenings highlighted productions strengths and weaknesses.
Eschewing the elaborate sets that are so often the mainstay of story ballets, Ratmansky brings the lavish upper-class society of Tsarist Russia to life in a series of larger than life images projected onto a cyclorama. These projections are complimented by sparse, but elegant sets. The piece de resistance is a full-sized train car, which spins around – courtesy of two golf cart engines and the deft manipulations of two offstage “pilots” on remote controls - to reveal a fully decorated interior, and slides off in clouds of stage smoke.
All of these dramatic effects come together in a faced paced production which races from scene to scene. Unfortunately on Thursday night, the set and speed conspired against each other, when the train station set got momentarily stuck, disrupting the flow of the ballet, most obviously visible in the slightly chaotic nature of the following officer’s dance. The evening never really recovered from this early misstep, despite fine dancing and dramatic performances, especially those of Marie-Pierre Greve (Anna), Mads Blangstrup (Vronsky) and Peter Bo Bendixen (Karenin).
This technical glitch hinted at one of the main weakness of the production - it's length. At less than two hours in length, including a 25-minute intermission, the ballet feels very rushed. We are swept from one scene to another, sometimes too quickly to fully absorb the emotion and keep track of the storyline. It's especially problematic at some points, because certain settings are not firmly established. Adding another 15-30 minutes to the production would not have been too much for the audience and would have allowed some part of the story to be better fleshed.
However, the problems that plagued Thursday’s performance did not emerge on Saturday, and the performance served as an elegant season farewell to the ballet and was witness to a number of high quality performances. Bringing the character of Anna Karenina to stage is a challenging task, for she is both incredibly strong and painfully weak at the same time. This duality shone through in Marie-Pierre Greve’s fine interpretation, and she was most moving as the fragile, brittle Anna who seems to be literally breaking apart as she pushes Vronsky away for the final time.
Blangstrup’s Vronsky is more introspective, his true emotions only breaking through in a dramatic solo which highlighted Blangstrup’s impressive, but controlled multiple pirouettes and sinuous body. The choreography for Karenin is perhaps less intriguing, but Peter Bo Bendixen succeeded in bringing humanity to a character who, in the Tolstoy’s novel, has much less to recommend him as a person. Bendixen’s performance highlighted the conflicting forces in Karenin’s life – love, business and the accepted morals of the society in which he lived. At point Ratmansky’s choreography has Karenin moving from simple pacing to a frenzied near-run around the stage, and there is the slightest inkling that the man is torn not just by how he thinks society will view him, but by a thread of love for his wife.
Konstantin Liovin, the man who’s proposal of marriage is rebuffed by Anna’s sister, is a major character in the book, but barely acknowledged in the ballet. However, Cedric Lambrette, who stepped into the role for the final performance, made the brief rejection scene crispy poignant, setting the mood for the events that would follow.
Ratmansky’s ballet is a more than respectable attempt to bring a long and complicated story to the ballet stage and demonstrates his ability to transfer emotion and context into ballet. With this success in hand, one hopes that ‘Anna Karenina” will not be his last collaboration with the Royal Danish Ballet. Martin Åkerwall conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra, with Mikael Melbye the designer of the sets and costumes.
“Livjægerne på Amager" and “Etudes"
The Royal Danish Ballet
October 2 and 3, 2004
The Royal Theatre, Gamle Scene
On Saturday, two classic Danish ballets re-entered the Royal Danish Ballet repertory in a richly stunning evening of dance. The program opened with the first major revival of this Bournonville Festival season, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s new production of August Bournonville’s classic “Livjægerne på Amager” (loosely translated as the ‘King’s Volunteers on Amager’). Complimenting this lighthearted tale of love and flirtation was Hal Landers’ fiendishly technical, but visually stunning “Etudes”.
Brought back to the Royal Theatre’s Gamle Scene in anticipation of next year’s Bournonville Festival, “Livjægerne på Amager” is the story of the flirtatious Edouard Du Puy, a lieutenant in the king’s volunteer guard. Amid the Shrovetide Festivities out on the island of Amager where he is billeted, Du Puy woos the local girls, but is eventually realizes the error of his ways after his wife comes to visit and partake in the festivities in disguise. The character of Du Puy is based on real man, the Swiss-born Edouard Dupuis, a violinist, conductor and singer who performed at the Royal Theatre while Bournonville was alive. Though Bournonville’s plays with the facts of Dupuis’ life, the ballet is an intriguing historical record of Amager at the turn of the 19th Century.
To create a fictional world faithful to Amager’s rich history, set and costume designer Karin Betz’s conducted intensive research, the results of which are obvious in the charming costumes and sets. Betz works with a limited palette primary colors and the country folk of Amager are dressed in ‘homespun’ black with wonderful detailing in blues, yellows and reds, while Edouard’s wife and her friends, upper class ladies from Copenhagen, are clad in organdy of vivid shades of deep orange. Tønne’s cozy house, where the action is centered, is enclosed by deep red rafters, and small back-piece, which provides a doorway into the house. The lush countryside beyond is illustrated by large projections.
Yet, it is the dancers who breathe the real life into this charming Bournonville ballet. Peter Bo Bendixen, who danced the role of Du Puy in the premiere and in place of the injured Jean-Lucien Massot on Sunday, created a very human character, a man who was a dashing, and flirtatious, but still believably contrite when confronted by his wife. It is an ideal role for Bendixen, who has developed into both an eloquent and earthy character dancer and solid partner. In one of Schlüter’s new additions in this production, a dream-scene pas de cinq for Du Puy and four beautiful maidens, Bendixen’s solid partnering allowed the dancing to be beautifully smooth, each lift gliding along.
Both Caroline Cavallo on Saturday and Silja Schandorff on Sunday were touching and appropriately elegant as Du Puy’s wife Louise, who disguises herself to teach her wayward husband a lesson. The trickery at the festivities ends when she peels away her mask and Edouard realizes he’s been flirting with his own wife. Schandorff in particular was a master of timing, flirting coyly with her husband, and dropping her fan at Du Puy’s feet just as he leans in to kiss one of the local girls.
A high-flying Otto, Thomas Lund once again demonstrated why he is among the finest Bournonville technicians of his generation. Though somewhat dwarfed by his partners in the pas de trois – including Cecilie Lassen who stood out on Sunday, Lund soared in his solos, his feet flashing in crisp, quick beats. As the red-cheeked Trine, one of the two local maids who flirt with Edouard, Elisabeth Dam stood out for her complete and believable immersion in the character. Also of note were the good-natured performances of Frederik Farrington, Martin Stauning and Dawid Kupinski as the local boys, Jan and Dirk.
Adding human depth and life to the ballet were the energetic corps, who soared through the various character dances during the final festivities, set to music by Mozart, Lumbye, Holm and Dupuis himself, and the many talented character dancers who fleshed out the older characters. In particular, Kirsten Simone and Jette Buchwald gave two very different, but equally valid interpretations of Bodil, the wife of Tønnes. Buchwald’s Bodil was firm and sharp, a sharp slap of the table rousing Tønnes to prepare for the festivities, while Simone was firm, but in a more patient, knowing way, her power gained from age and seniority.
A world away from the giddy "Livjægerne på Amager", Harald Lander’s "Etudes" is an unadorned display of classical ballet. Carl Czerny’s etudes, arranged by Knudåge Riisager are used in the teaching of piano students, and "Etudes" is in itself, a ballet class on stage. A lone ballerina emerges from the curtain to demonstrate the five basic ballet steps, and then the curtains part to reveal lines of black and white tutu clad ballerinas at the barre. The ballet is both fiendishly difficult and visually stunning, with lighting effects that highlight the movements of the bodies across the stage. In one section, the ballerinas at the barre are lit to that they appear as crisp black figures against a light blue backdrop, in another dancers speedily jete across pathways of light that cross diagonally from wing to wing. In all the scenes, former Paris Opera Ballet dancer Josette Amiel’s painstaking and precise coaching, was obvious in the crisp and confident nature of the dancing. While the dancing was not without the occasional stray arm or leg, the dancers performed with a nearly uniform timing and power, wrists flicking in one dramatic moment, the male corps jumping as one in the beats.
Making her debut as the ballerina on Saturday, Gitte Lindstrøm was serenely elegant as the Sylph and feisty in the powerful folk-dance influenced finale. The following afternoon, Caroline Cavallo was a more youthfully kinetic ballerina, showing off her fast precise spins and fearless jumps. A handsome and attentive partner in the Sylphide section, Mads Blangstrup also debuted in his role on Saturday evening. That same night, Kenneth Greve and Jean-Lucien Massot powered through the male solos, their performances determined and focused. Greve, who replaced the injured Marcin Kupinski on Sunday, was especially impressive in both the long series of fouettes and the folk-dance influenced final, but was understandably in the second performance of the weekend.
Sharing the stage with Greve on Sunday was the talented Kristoffer Sakurai, in yet another major debut. Though there were a few minor bobbles in his performance, Sakurai danced with a refreshing energy, joy and relief evident in the occasional wide smile. It’s a difficult role, and the quality of Sakurai’s debut performance suggests that with more time and practice, even better performances are to come!
As whole, the corps was excellent, but looked a bit more tired and haphazard on Sunday afternoon. At least part of the problem appeared to lie in a less precisely played performance by the Royal Danish Orchestra – the music, and especially the tempo is an integral part of “Etudes” and with the orchestra meandering, the dancers seemed to lose their bearings onstage. Martin Åkerwall conducted on Saturday, Michael Schønwandt on Sunday.
<small>[ 09 October 2004, 01:55 PM: Message edited by: ksneds ]</small>