CriticalDance Forum

Bournonville Festival - Abdallah
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Author:  ksneds [ Mon Jun 06, 2005 8:36 am ]
Post subject:  Bournonville Festival - Abdallah

Discuss performances and other thoughts on 'Abdallah'

Author:  Jean-Luc [ Mon Jun 06, 2005 9:26 am ]
Post subject: 

That's one of my favourites!
I love this "exotic" ballet because dance never stops... Many ensembles, pas-de-deux, pas-de-trois, variations...
The music score by Paulli is charming, the sets and costumes are just wonderful.
And the most important : the Bournonville spirit is always present, as well in the choreography as the staging.
It would be great to read some comments about it :D !

This ballet will be performed tomorrow.

You can see a trailer from Abdallah (and many others Bournonville ballets) on

Author:  Abdallah video or dvd [ Sun Jun 12, 2005 8:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bournonville Festival - Abdallah

Do you know where and if it is possible to buy a dvd or video of Abdallah? I am also looking for La Sylphide but it seems they do not exist. Do you know more about it?

Author:  ksneds [ Sun Jun 12, 2005 12:14 pm ]
Post subject: 

As far as I'm aware, there are no commericially available versions of the Royal Danish Ballet in any Bournonville ballets. I believe 'La Sylphide' was recorded on Laser Disc in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but it is no longer sold - you might keep an eye on to see if a copy is listed.


Author:  Jean-Luc [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:59 am ]
Post subject: 

I have a little question about Abdallah.

Did you note that in the first act, there are some extracts from Napoli (act3) music : adagio and variations?

Someone can explain this? Is there anything mentioned in the booklet?
Nevertheless, I guess the choreography is different from Napoli.

Thanks for your answers... :)

Author:  Guest [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 11:01 am ]
Post subject: 

I can't find any references to that in the musical notes section of the Bournonville website. Holger Simon Paulli was only one of four composers who worked on Napoli whereas he was the sole composer of the later Abdallah. Perhaps he didn't like wasting a good tune

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 11:25 am ]
Post subject: 

Royal Danish Ballet
Det Kongelige Teater
7th June 2005

My first ballet of the Bournonville Festival was “Abdallah”, a gorgeous Arabian Nights style concoction about the love of a poor shoemaker (the title character) for the beautiful girl next door, Irma. But Fatima, Irma’s Mum, is having none of it and considers poor Abdullah to be a totally unsuitable match for her daughter. Fate takes a hand when popular Sheikh Ismael, currently on the run and out of favour with the country’s ruler, is hidden by Abdallah in his home. As a reward he receives a gift of a magic five-branched candlestick which when lit the first four times will grant a wish, lit a fifth time however and he will lose the lot.

Abdallah reacts like a lottery winner out on a spree acquiring a palace, posh clothes, a banquet and a bevy of beautiful girls in quick succession and surprise, surprise, Fatima changes her mind about his suitability for her daughter. Irma however is unimpressed; she loved the old Abdallah, not a strutting nouveau riche. Eventually he uses another wish to send his would-be mother in law disappearing through the floor. Realizing that this isn’t the life for him, Abdallah lights the last candle and everything disappears.

In the third and final act all the loose ends are tied together with Sheikh Ismael regaining power and offering Irma the choice of any of his eight sons (a very good looking bunch they are too). But she refuses, as she still loves her Abdullah of old. The sheikh takes pity on Abdullah and adopts him and the lovers are finally united with a happy ever after assured.

“Abdallah” is unique among the ballets shown in the festival in that it is a reconstruction of a work previously thought lost. The archaeology in this case was carried out by Bruce Marks, who managed to obtain some original material relating to the ballet from Sotheby’s, and with the assistance of his wife Toni Lander and Royal Danish principal Flemming Ryberg, they reconstructed the work in America in 1985. “Abdallah” was then staged in back in Denmark the following year with Sorella Englund joining the original team. As far as I could see, the only indication of this not being original Bournonville is that there is possibly less mime in this ballet than one might expect and it is to the credit of all concerned that the actual choreography looks authentic.

I found watching “Abdallah” a highly enjoyable experience; in some ways it’s reminiscent of “Le Corsaire” with its Middle Eastern setting but without any unsavoury subplots about slave dealing and the buying and selling of young women. Of course Bournonville was a very moral man and even the relatively tame goings-on of “Abdallah” must have struck 19th century Danish ballet goers as a risqué subject for their favourite choreographer: nowadays of course its all good fun.

In the title role, Morton Eggert was wonderfully funny as a simple man suddenly endowed with magic powers and dancing brilliantly all the way through, from his bucolic hoofing with his fellow shoemakers through to romantic duos with the lovely Irma (Amy Watson). Of course in this kind of ballet there’s often a scene-stealer who grabs the applause from under the principals noses and in this case it was little Tobias Praetorius, mega cute in his little turban and running rings round the adults. I was also very taken with Yao Wei as one of Sheiks Ismael’s daughters and later learned that she had been elevated to the rank of soloist only the night before.

The sets and costumes were sumptuous with oriental style costumes for the male dancers, but for the girls those typical Bournonville style full-skirted dresses that are so very flattering. The music is by one of Bournonville’s regular collaborators, Holger Simon Paulli and is attractive and tuneful without any pseudo orientalisms creeping in.

After the performance there was a reception in honour of Bruce Marks, who related the story of how he first came by the “Abdullah” manuscript and how he managed to obtain funding for the first production. Mr Marks is an excellent speaker and an amusing one too; in response to an earlier comment that he looked wonderful, he told us how a famous orchestral conductor had once remarked to him that there are three ages of man: youth, middle age and “you look wonderful”! I’m going to remember that one. Actually Mr Marks you don’t just look wonderful, you are wonderful.

Author:  Ricky D3 [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 11:28 am ]
Post subject:  Abdallah variations

As far as I can remember reading, long after the premiere performances of the original Abdallah, someone attempted to reconstruct the then 'lost' ballet, starting with the solo variations and adagios (some as you heard from act one). However, the full scale restoration never took place, so, when the next revival of Napoli was taking place, the reconstructed variations and musical excerpts were inserted into the Pas de Six. This is how the Napoli Act III Pas de Six received many of its variations and adagios, they originally were from Abdallah in the first place.

RD 3 (Guest)

Author:  Jean-Luc [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 4:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

Well, thank you Ricky D3! :D
I'm still surprised when the same music appears in different ballets...
As I'm very curious about this, I always want to know why.

Author:  'Want more?' Ricky D3 [ Tue Jun 14, 2005 7:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Here's some more specific stuff to chew on :-D

If you're very excited Jean-Luc, and I am just as much by such history, let me share some more information with you! :-D

Tobi Tobias, at, actually mentioned Bournonville in his most recent article, this monday, June 13th. Here, he actually mentions...

"For the record: The score, by Bournonville’s most frequent musical collaborator, H.S. Paulli, will sound strangely familiar at times, even to audience members new to Abdallah. Hans Beck, the RDB’s ballet master from 1894 to 1915, appropriated stretches of it to add variations to the cascade of ebullient dancing already present in the celebratory closing act of Napoli—another instance in which—though it’s heresy to say it, I suspect less might have been more." To read the whole article, the link is available right here: ... tml#100576

This is pretty much the same thing as I had read elsewear previously, and is consistent with what the Bournonville Festival's website. If you read the chronology in the 'Facts' link included in Napoli's description on that page, it dictates very early on, "Newly staged 30.10. 1898...Soli in Pas de six: Hans Beck...Staging: Hans Beck"

In fact, and this is the MOST interesting piece of insight (anyone play six degrees of seperation), Thomus Lund mentions the 'coincidence' with our own KATE SNEDEKER, in an interview for Ballet Dance Magazine, transcribed and posted right here on CriticalDance :) The article can be found directly at: ... 32004.html

...but for time, here is the direct excerpt I'm refering too...

"(Kate Snedeker:) You talk about not knowing exactly what the Bournonville style was…did Bournonville take notes on his ballets?

(Thomas Lund:)He wrote the ballets down, but it’s very hard because his notations are for himself to remember his ballets, and it was put under the musical score. And this is very interesting - for instance, Hans Beck, who was a director in the beginning of this century - Bournonville saw [Beck] dance before he died and liked him as a dancer, and so Beck had a feeling for the whole style that shows how it goes onto the next generation. He created solos, five solos for 'Napoli', third act, and those solos were taken from 'Abdallah'. He read [the notations] in the score for 'Abdallah', and he didn’t do [the solos] that specifically. Now we’ve seen 'Napoli' so many times that we think that this is how it used to be.
Now I’m starting working with 'Abdallah'. Flemming Ryberg and Toni Lander reconstructed it, and they really went into the score of 'Abdallah' and took it word by word, and they reconstructed the solos that Hans Beck in a way also reconstructed, but put it in 'Napoli' and they got a very different result. So that’s very interesting and shows a little bit about reading those scores really carefully."

The history behind Bournonville, his ballets, artists, and his sucessors surprises and enlightens all of his enthusiasts, Jean-Luc, and it's so exciting to meet other appreciative enthusiasts! :-D I hope we all help eachother keep learning! (Like learning how to convert currency [wink, Stuart Sweeney])

Ricky D3

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 2:07 am ]
Post subject: 


Thanks for the pointing that out...I'd totally forgotten that Thomas had talked about 'Abdallah' in that interview! At that time, I don't think I'd seen 'Napoli' or 'Abdallah', but now that I have, it makes a lot of sense.

And that might explain why the score from 'Abdallah' is the only one not included in the CD set of Bournonville ballet music - perhaps there's enough overlap with 'Napoli', that it was not worth including it separately.

BTW, Tobi Tobias is a woman :o)


Author:  Jean-Luc [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 5:09 am ]
Post subject: 

Ricky D3, you're great and brillant :D !

Thank you for these so precious informations. So, if I understood correctly :?: , we can't know now what is the REAL choreography made by Bournonville since the results are different.

Anyway, I think the Napoli result is very good : choreography and music are in complete harmony.
I don't know if the Abdallah result is good as much.
It would be very interesting if somebody could compare this, even if that requires to perfectly know the Napoli variations... :wink:

About notations on the musical score, many choreographers used to write their work on it, not necessarily completely :cry: ...only to remind themselves a few details during the rehearsals... :?:

There are interesting interviews with Pierre Lacotte in the two DVD bonus (La Fille du Pharaon and La Sylphide) : he mentions how it's difficult to read correctly these notations according to the music, and not to make misreadings.

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 7:44 am ]
Post subject: 

I can tell you that Napoli, with the excpeption of the 2nd act and of course the added in solos, is pretty much as it was done in Bournonville's time . And a big reason for that, is that it's been continually performed since the premiere, so there's been little time for people to forget or lose track of the choreography. We were shown a clip of Hans Beck dancing one of the 'Napoli' pas de deuxs, taped around 1905 or so, and though the technique certainly has changed & improved, the steps are very, very familiar.

'Abdallah' was more or less lost for MANY years, so by the time it was re-constructed for Ballet West, there wasn't anyone alive who had danced in the ballet. Thus, they had to go directly from the notations and other papers, which leads to a very different results than when you have someone who's actually seen or done the ballet.

Dinna Bjorn gave a long talk before the final Bournonville class presentation at the Festival, and I think she gave a clear picture as to how the ballets have been preserved and gently altered.

I can't remember the ballet or the person being referred to, but she said that when they couldn't remember a step (and it wasn't notated), they would simply pick a step out of the Bournonville class that was appropriate to the music and adjoining steps. So the ballet changed, but the style and intention and most of the steps stayed the same.

And also, steps have had to change as technique has developed. Women weren't really on pointe in the 1900s, so of course steps will change, as needed to accomodate the needs of pointe and current technique. I remember reading somewhere that it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that turns in the "Folk Tale" (I think) pas de sept were done on pointe. They'd previously been done on demi pointe.

This all reminds me of a game we played when I was younger called 'telephone' where you'd sit in a circle and one person would whisper something into the next's person' ear. They'd repeat what they heard and so-on, until it go back to the original person. It was rarely ever the same thing. And thus it's the way with Bournonville, as it's handed down from person to person - though obviously it's easier now that everything is filmed. So things will change, but I think the unbroken circle is what's important - change happens, but the care, the training, the knowledge and the respect stay with the ballets.



Author:  'embarrassed' Ricky D3 [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 11:46 am ]
Post subject:  Oh Shnap...

...Thanks for pointing that out for me Kate...I think it was only after I went back and read Ms. Tobias article again that I considered that 'Tobi' was the female form, lol.

Just how much of Abdallah do you suppose was converted into Napoli, Kate, and where do you think those variations were situated in the original Abdallah Libretto? I haven't seen Abdallah for myself, and it looks like a lengthy production, but listening to some of the music in Napoli and watching the variations (I have and old copy from the 1986 production featuring Arne Villumsen and Linda Hindberg, two powerhouse RDB dancers) I can make a guess as to what material was originally 'foreign' to Napoli.

In any case, I certainly would be thrilled to see a production of Abdallah sometime in my life. Judging from some of the score in Napoli, and the brilliant variations in the third act, I'm sure that I would find another new favorite Bournenville ballet in Abdallah. :-D

Ricky D3

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 2:25 pm ]
Post subject: 

Judging from my CD liner notes, only about 12-15 minutes, which includes solos and pdd sections, was transplanted into "Napoli".


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