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A week in Copenhagen - Reports from Dec. 15 - 22, 2006
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Author:  ksneds [ Fri Dec 15, 2006 6:20 pm ]
Post subject:  A week in Copenhagen - Reports from Dec. 15 - 22, 2006

From my first day here, first thoughts from "Swan Lake"

Swan Lake
December 15

This December the Royal Danish Ballet is celebrating the holiday season with performances of two company classics, "Swan Lake" and "Napoli". On this unseasonably warm evening, a captivating performance of "Swan Lake" at the Opera House provided a welcome distraction from the rainy reality outside. Peter Martins' version of the ballet, based on earlier productions by Ivanov, Petipa and Balanchine, takes a less story based approach to the traditional classic. Pared down mime and Per Kirkeby's abstract set designs shifted the focus to the dance, and it is the dance that is the strength of this production.

In just their second performance in the lead roles, Yao Wei and Sebastian Michanek were a physically and stylisticallly well matched couple. Michanek, who joined the company last season from the Royal Swedish Ballet, is a handsome and passionate prince. Though technically very proficient and clearly comfortable with Michanek's partnering, Yao Wei was a distant, somewhat chilly Odette. There is a fine line between being fragile and nervous and being icy and brittle, a balance which Wei is still in the process of finding. However, as the evil Odile, Wei was the eptiome of evil allure, every bit the cunning minx in her attempts to lure Siegfried to his downfall. She showed off impressive balances and extension with excellent attention to timing with the music, though her fouettes are still a work in progress. And at just 22, she has plenty more years in career to polish an already remarkable talent.

As a note, Wei along with several other women had a unpleasant tendency to raise the foot over the knee in attitude. I was taught that knee should be higher than the foot, and think that it is much more asthetically pleasing to have a lower arabesque in a proper position rather than a higher one not. And perhaps the men have better form because they generally aren't required to do an attitude derriere beyond 90 degrees.

Returning to Odette in the 2nd act, Wei seemed revitalized, bringing to the role some of the emotion and much of the characterisation that was missing earlier. Michanek, like his fellow Swede, Tim Matiakis, is a superb turner and has nice, sleek lines. He uses these lines to great effect in beats and in expressing the ardency of Siegfried's love for Odette (and Odile). Unfortunately the overall quality of his dancing seemed to suffer from his attempt to power through conductor Tadeusz Wojciechowski's overly slow tempos. [I've not seen this production in some time, but to me the tempos seemed a bit unstable - too fast sometimes and too slow on other occasions] Still he managed to finish each solo with a superb, well-timed flourish.

The role of the jester has been much maligned in New York, where this production is performed by the New York City Ballet. After seeing Morten Eggert's wonderfully nuanced interpretation, however, it is clear that role is not flawed, it just only works in the right set of hands – and Eggert's set is most capable. Unlike in NY where the role is cast with very small dancers, Eggert is as tall, if not taller than Michanek and this brings a whole different feel to the jester. He's not a little bit of bouncing entertainment, rather someone who's profession is to enterain and who uses this role in the court to bring attention, in a subtly or not so subtly comedic way, to what it happening and what has happened. Eggert has developed into one of the company's most talented character dancer and matches it with technique that has secured him lead roles in a variety of repertoire. The company would do well to ensure that his talents are nurtured and encouraged, as they are of great benefit to the company now and in the future.

Martins' von Rothbart can seem a bit silly in his face paint and bright orange cape, and Thomas Flint Jeppesen, in his debut, hasn't yet figured out how to make the character sufficienly menacing. An unforunate tangle with the cape early didn't help Lis Jeppesen also was hampered by problematic costuming, as the bullky dress was particularly unflattering on her petite figure, though her powerful presence was enough to overcome this issue.

The joy in Martins' production is truly in the dancing, and the company rose to the occasion. The 20 strong swan corps, though not picture perfect, did what so many other company's swans have failed to do, and that is dance as stylistically and emotionally coherent group. The women clearly have benefited from strong and effective coaching, the result of which was a group that truly seemed like a flock of swans moving in harmony. This harmony was also apparent in the 1st act group work with its weaving, lyrical patterns. In one section, where the men do a series of beats together, the effect of so many bodies going up in complete synchrony was very impressive.

The 2nd act divertissements marked a passing of the torch of sorts. In seven divertissements, only three principals were present, with new soloist and corps members taking on almost all the major roles. And doing them well. Dawid Kupinski could still use work on his phrasing and control, but his power, silky lines and grace are stunning. With so much talent already apparent, one hopes he gets the right coaching and opportunities to make the most of them. If he does, ballet fans have a lot to look forward to over the next decade. Though Izabela Sokolowska and Susanne Grinder were more than competent alongside Kupinski, Gudrun Bojseon was the star of the pas de quatre, seemingly almost to levitate with her opening series of fast, tight chaine turns. The other two principal dancers performing were Marie-Pierre Greve and Thomas Lund in the Russian Dance. Though Lund is perhaps not the obvious choice for such a role, he attacked it with such an sinous intensity that one could forget the hideous costume and concentrate on the dancing. In the other dances, promising debuts came from Sebastian Kloborg in Hungarian, Ulrik Birkkjær in Spanish and Rebecca Labbé in Neopolitian.

Dancing aside, the productions high point is in its ending. Martins should be applauded for resisting any urge to resort to the usual schmaltzy happy ending. Instead he achknowledges the power of Odette and Siegfried's love by allowing it destroy von Rothbart. But in that destruction, the fate that Siegfried chose for himself by swearing love to Odile is sealed for with Rothbart dead, the charm that keeps Odette a swan by day can never be broken. She bids farewell to the anguished Siegfried, as she bourrees off the stage, lit from behind and followed by her flock of white - and black – swans. The juxtaposition of colors is a memorable reminder of Siegfried's betrayal.

Author:  ksneds [ Sat Dec 16, 2006 5:58 pm ]
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Dec. 16
It has stopped raining and gotten colder. Not quite proper winter weather yet, but a big improvement on the warm rain of the previous day. Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn and Stroget are all lit up for Christmas, and the lights are much prettier without the rain.

The improved weather brought out more people to the HabourBus, necessitating very speedy trips across the harbor to get all the waiting theatre goers across in time. The harbour bus is a model of efficient public transportion - it docks, the ramp comes down and passengers file on, punching their clip card or quickly purchasing a single ticket (pre purchase of tickets heavily encouraged). The passenger number is counted by one attendant, and no sooner has the last person stepped in the boat then the ramp flips up and the boat zooms off. Less than two minutes later, the boat docks at the Opera House, disgorges passengers and zooms back to Nyhavn. During the rest of the year it makes other stops, but in the winter and for performances it's a simple shuttle. What could take 30 minutes by bus takes just 2 by boat.

But on to the performance...

There were no debuts in this evening's performance of "Swan Lake", but it was no less exciting than the previous night. The company's senior male dancer Kenneth Greve took on the role of Prince Siegfried, towering over his Odette/Odile, Caroline Cavallo. In lesser hands the height differences – a few inches even when Cavallo is on pointe – might have been an issue, but both dancers are so experienced that the necessary adjustments were made with smooth subtlety.

There are probably few, if any dancers today who can match Greve's CV when it comes to "Swan Lakes". This experience was evident in his noble, but deeply affecting interpretation of the Prince Siegfried. This was not a youngster mad with young lust, but a man truly, deeply in love. At 6ft 5in (or so), he cuts an impressive figure on the stage and above it. The highlights of his solos were his soaring grand jetes – the sight of those longs stretched high above the stage is jaw dropping – and the rock-steady turns in second. Cavallo brings a very mature rendition of Odette and Odile to the stage – a fragile, shy, but smitten Odette and conniving, gloating Odile. It is her arms in particular that make an impression, for she uses them to great effect, whether in wavering winglike motions or the sharp angles of Odile's final poses.

Her von Rothbart on this evening was Peter Bo Bendixen, who aside from being a character actor with the RDB, has also recently been named director of the ballet at the Tivoli Pantomime Theatre. No von Rothbart could hope to tower over Greve, but Bendixen did not need size to convey his evil. He has mastered the swoop of the cape, flashing the bright orange lining to catch the eye and using the full expanse of the cape to make himself seem more imposing.

There were no major cast changes from the previous evening, but many impressive performances. Morten Eggert, again the jester, is the master of improv, and I managed to miss much of the early action of Act 1, while entraced with his little mannerisms and acting. Perhaps the most touching of his scenes is the transition between the two parts of Act 2. After the court has fled in the aftermath of Odile's seduction of Siegfried, the hall lies empty. After a moment's pause, the jester creeps in to survey the scene. He looks around with an unjesterly solemnity, and then uses his finger to trace the tracks of two tears down his cheeks. Then he curls up in the throne as the panels of the ballroom split up and off to reveal the swan lake of the fimal scene. It's an immensely powerful transition, as it gives the audience a chance to take a breath after the chaos of the Scene 3 finale and take in the enormity of what has just happened. To have the jester, who has up til now represented humor remind us of the tragedy makes it all the more poignant. At New York City Ballet, where I think less thought goes into the characterisation of the jester, I think the scene loses its impact. Here, with Eggerts masterful acting and dancing, our attention never wavers. The set transition too is masterful, for the panels split up and other, as if a wall shattering an fading back into the forest.

Ulrikk Birkkjær took over the role of Benno tonight, revealing the talents of another of the company's up and coming men. Of particular note in his solo was a series of beautiful pirouettes that ended in a pefectly balance releve. The pas de quatre was again led by Dawid Kupinski with Diani Cuni, Gudrun Bojesen and (? Lesley Culver – there was shortage of cast lists and two near sleepness nights is problematic for the memory). As I've said, before I look forward to seeing Kupinski, who is just 22, develop his vast talents. Tonight he struck me as looking a bit like a young Kenneth Greve with his long legs, high controlled, stretched jump and plush plies.

The casting for many of the other divertissements was excellent. Sebastian Kloborg and Maria Bernholdt are a match made in heaven for the spicy Hungarian Dance - she has sass and power, he high jumps and energy. Up until now, I'd always considered Kloborg as more of a Romantic dancer – he debuted as Romeo last fall, but he really has sunk his teeth into the Hungarian dance and revealed a new facet to his dancing. Amy Watson was a Russian dancer on a knife-edge, pushing the choreography to it's breathtaking extreme, ably supported by Jean-Lucien Massot. Both Massot and also Tim Matiakis in the Napolitian dance overcame two of the more unfortunate costumes in the production, though Matiakis seemed to have lost his black and white ballet slippers somewhere between Kongens Nytorv and Dokoen.

And it wouldn't be "Swan Lake" without the swans, who were again a model of corps excellence. One often does not realize the lack of true cohesion in corp de ballets until you see true cohesion, such as that seen in "Swan Lake" this week. It's not a matter of getting every footstep and arm in identical positions, but a uniformity of style and movement, the best example of which were the gentle 'wing flaps' in our first introduction to the swan. 24 (20?) pairs of arms surged upwards and down with the same energy and curve. I also was struck tonight by the beautiful coordination in the sequence where the swans, all on flat foot in arabesque, all hop turn to the music. It's a visual arresting scene, and no less impressive technically given that it's no cup of tea balancing on a flat pointe shoe (I've heard it being compared to wearing little canoes on one's feet). The one troublesome point was again the classic bent wristed 'swan neck' position, something that seems to stymy corps around the world.

Tadeusz Wojcieochowski again conducted, improved from the previous night, but still with room for improvement.

Author:  ksneds [ Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:06 pm ]
Post subject: 

December 18

Each day gets bit more wintry, though it's still doesn't reall feel truly Christmasy. Up in Sweden this morning we had a hard frost & dense fog and the oh-so-wonderful chore of scraping the windscreens before heading off to the station. Here, it's raining again. Yes, rain in late December. Yuck.

As to the performance...

There are no guarantees in show biz - anything can happen. And tonight it did. The orchestra launched into the overture, the lights faded out, the scrim slipped upward...and stopped....about 4ft off the stage. And stuck. After about 30 seconds of watching the dancers - from the waist down - continue, the main curtain dropped and the lights came up. Five minutes later, the recalcitrant scrim had been relegated elsewhere, the ballet was restarted using just the main curtain.

Unfortunately, because the action on stage begins as the curtain is coming up, and replaying the whole overture was not a viable option, the dancers had to ad lib through about a minute of music before their cue. Big kudos to all the dancers, especially Christopher Rickert who though robbed of his big entrance, ad libbed his way admirablely until the music and the dance could be blended back together.

The first act dances, though enthusiastic, seemed just a hair less crisp as in previous nights, perhaps the tension slightly broken by the false start. The youngest of the dancers in the role, Rickert is a very kinetic Jester, bouncing around and interested in everything and looks like he's enjoying every minute on stage. It's not as refined an interpretation as Morten Eggerts, but Rickert seems wisely to be crafting his own Jester rather than copying anyone else's. I did however miss the bit Eggert did at the end of the 3rd scene, tracing imaginary tears down his face, which Rickert did not.

Caroline Cavallo appeared again as Odette/Odile, this time capably partnered by Andrew Bowman. Though Cavallo might not quite get so much air time with the shorter Bowman (though he's also over 6ft), they are a more balanced pair than Cavallo and Greve. I found Bowman the most satisying of the Siegfrieds - I've always felt his stage presence is mature beyond his 28 years, and he has the good looks, passionate acting skills, fine technique, partnering know-how and most importantly the knowledge of how to put it all together. When he knelt down 'crying' in front of the queen after realizing he'd lost Odette by swearing the oath to Odile, I could almost feel his pain. Cavallo, in her second performance in three days, shone in Bowman's hands. Along with Yao Wei and Sebastien Michanek, this a pair that should be top on the list for future performances.

Siegfried's friend Benno gets short shrift in this production, disappearing after the 1st act. As he's supposed to be Siegfried's friend, I can't figure out why he doesn't show up at the birthday party. Did the swans get him?
In anycase, Cédric Lambrette did a fine job in the role, both on his own and supporting Susanne Grinder and Izabela Sokolowska in the pas de trois.

In both the pas de trois and pas de quatre I have been continually impressed with the ability of the RDB dancers to stay in synch. It's not easy to time your steps exactly to someone by your side, let alone when there are men and women together. Tonight, especially, in the finale of the pas de quatre, the three ladies were spot on for the penultimate turns. It's not fatal if they are a bit off, but when it's on, it just looks fantastic.

Again, the Pas de Quatre was undoubtedly the highlight of the divertissements. What struck me tonight were the height of Dawid Kupinksi's jumps, and Diani Cuni's sparkling solo. Cuni, who is schedule to make her debut as Teresina on Wednesday, has quietly excelled in Bournonville roles and her pas de quatre solo makes great use of the attributes that have made her such a fine Bournonville dancer. She has quicksilver footwork, crispness, elegant epaulment, fine phrasing and a beautiful smile atop it all.

Constantine Baecher was enthusiastic as the lead male Hungarian dancer, but Meaghan Spedden has yet to master the presence needed to make an impression as the lead female. The Hungarian Dance is all about bold shapes, and steps with power & weight behind them, neither of which I saw the right amount of tonight. Meanwhile Maria Bernholdt brought her spice to the Spanish Dance, with Ulrik Birkkjær, Josee Howard and especially Fernando Mora rounding out the sizzling foursome. Amy Watson again attacked the Russian dance with a breathtaking take-no-prisoners attitude, Jean-Lucien Massot a rock solid partner. Watson practically hurled herself into the final pose, but there seemed no doubt that Massot would catch her at exactly the final note. He did, and we could finally exhale...

The swan corps started out strong, but looked just a tad less tight in the final scene. It may be the effects of 10 "Swan Lakes" in two weeks while also preparing for the repremiere of "Napoli" - this not a huge company and many of the women in the corps dance are both in divertissements and the swan corps. These feathered femmes have a day off tomorrow, then two Napolis and a Swan Lake in a row. That's enought to make one very ready for Christmas break, even if it does mean facing the Christmas shopping crowds on the Stroget in the rain!

As I was watching the divertissements, I couldn't help but wonder if Peter Martins had taken some of his inspiration from the divertissements in Balanchine's "Nutcracker". It's all Tchaikovsky music, and I think the music in the Spanish dance is very similar, if not the same at the Hot Chocolate divert in "Nutcracker". The costumes share a lot of similarities as well. My favorite costumes though are the Hungarian ones because the really move with the dancers and the shades of reds, yellows and greens in the women's skirts seem to flatter every dancer, no matter their hair color or complexion. In contrast, I still cringe everytime the Neapolitian lead male in what can only be described as a tie-dyed belly-dancing top - it's a skin tight shirt knotted in front to reveal most of the dancer's midriff and looks more like something from the Flinstones than classical ballet. It's rather an embarrasment given that "Napoli", which is being run at the same time gives multiple examples of authentic Neapolitian wear. None of which is tie dye or midriff bearing.


Edited on 21 December to add an additional thought...

I've noticed over the three performances that the first bit of the first solo in the pas de quatre in Act 2 is usually obscured to the right hand seats by the Queen, as she is seated by von Rothbart. It seems that it would help if the von Rothbart could make sure he and the queen are seated more quickly so they are not obstructing the dancing.

Author:  ksneds [ Mon Dec 18, 2006 6:11 pm ]
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Dec. 18 - Looking ahead

Next is "Napoli". There is one more "Swan Lake", but by then, airlines and weather permitting, I (and my luggage!) should be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This will be a special run of "Napoli" as it includes only the second debut in the role of Gennaro in the last eight years and the first debut as Teresina for a very long time. I think we're all in for a treat when Tim Matiakis and Diana Cuni step into these classic roles. The other cast is lead by the company's finest partnership and top Bournonville dancers, Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund.

Repremieren onsdag den 20. december 2006 kl. 20
Genarro: Tim Matiakis
Teresina: Diana Cuni
Golfo: Morten Eggert
Fra Ambrosio: Peter Bo Bendixen

Torsdag den 21. december 2006 kl. 20
Genarro: Thomas Lund
Teresina: Gudrun Bojesen
Golfo: Fernando Mora
Fra Ambrosio: Erling Eliasson

Author:  ksneds [ Tue Dec 19, 2006 4:56 pm ]
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December 19
I realized this morning that last night's review neglected Erling Eliasson's von Rothbart. The tallest of the three current von Rothbarts, Eliasson used his height with great effect, managing to dominate over the tall Andrew Bowman. The taller the dancer, the larger the orange lined cloak, but Eliasson avoided any cloak catastrophes and in fact swept the cloak around to great effect. He also made good use of his hands - there is a huge difference between a hand merely held up and one thrust foward, finger tensed and fully stretched out.

The focus of the day was the dress rehearsal for tomorrow's cast of "Napoli", which as currently scheduled includes debuts in the two lead roles as well for Golfo. It was no ordinary rehearsal, for the theatre was packed to the rafters with schoolchildren from around Copenhagen. Take a good thousand kids and put them in one theatre, and you get a lot of noise. A LOT of noise. To their credit however, the kids were generally well behaved, though some of those old enough to know better were not good role models for the younger children.

Presumably the children had been instructed about applauding for the orchestra and conductor, and when the conductor arrived on the scene, the orchestra got a level of applause usually seen at rock concerts. Whilst the dancers backstage might have been perplexed, the musicians seemed to be fully enjoying their rare moment of stardom.

The kids seemed to appreciate Act 1, but were a little impatient for Gennaro to finally get his girl (Teresina) in Act 2 and when the two finally embraced there was huge applause. But what really got them going were the two trick dress-changes, when Teresina 'magically' switches from her Neapolitan dress to Nyad dress and that later back again. Even after several close up views, the trick still amazed me and the kids didn't even notice it at first. But then you could hear the gasps and wows and cools (or rather, the Danish versions thereof). Which was great, because I'm sure these kids will remember that cool 'dress trick', and perhaps it will encourage some of them to come back to see more cool stuff at the ballet. Who says the classics can't be cool!

Tomorrow is the first performance of "Napoli" since the Bournonville Festival, and with the debuts it should be a very special night. I do hope that the theatre is quite full, because such an occasion deserves the a full house atmosphere.

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Dec 20, 2006 6:57 pm ]
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20 December 2006
The Royal Theatre, Copenhagen
Royal Danish Ballet

There are few things more special in ballet than watching the Royal Danish Ballet perform "Napoli". It's a ballet that defines a company, cherished by all involved and blessed with an infectiously joyous ending. On this evening, the Royal Theatre audiences had the added pleasure of seeing outstanding debuts in most of the major roles. In particular Tim Matiakis and Diana Cuni stepped in the lead roles of Gennaro and Teresina, whilst Morten Eggert was a debutant as Golfo.

"Napoli", is the story of Gennaro, a poor fisherman and his beloved, Teresina. She is washed away in the storm, to be rescued by sea nymphs (naiads) ruled by the sea spirit Golfo. It is with the power of Christianity, in the form of an amulet of the Madonna, that Gennaro saves Teresina from life as a naiad. The lovers reunited, the village rejoices in a festive display of traditional dancing.

From the beginning, "Napoli" is awash with colour and life. The opening scene on the harbourside of Naples is one that I consider to be the benchmark of crowd scenes, a tableu of human life that no other company can yet reproduce. The combined efforts of the company members, character dancers, ballet school children and experienced Royal Theatre extras create a splash of Napolitean life teeming with action, detail and layers. One can get happily distracted watching all the little goings on, and my current bit of fun is during Pascarillo's "song". Sitting over on stage right by the bumbling drummer, Elisabeth Dam, Dawid Kupinski and Henriette Brøndsholm have developed, and played around with, a wonderful series of mime reacting to and helping the unfortunate musician. It's this kind of lush detail that make "Napoli" so rich and timeless, for each generation of dancers can add their own stamp to the story.

Major debuts in any Bournonville ballet are a rarity, for only a handful of dancers per generation are given the honor of taking on such roles. Tonight, Tim Matiakis became the 27th Gennaro and only the third non-Dane ever to dance the role premiered by August Bournonville himself. Of this performance, Bournonville - who like Matiakis had/has a Swedish mother - I think would have been proud. Matiakis is an intelligent dancer, gifted with natural talent tempered with maturity. He clearly had put much thought into the character of Gennaro, giving the Neapolitan fisherman a firery, rougish edge softened by intense passion for his beloved Teresina. Diana Cuni, who seemingly should have had a chance in the role long before tonight, was perfect as Teresina to Matiakis' Gennaro. Cuni's petite but powerful figure was a perfect match in colouring and size for the fairly short Matiakis. While other dancers have been in the spotlight, Cuni has quietly developed into a superb Bournonville dancer. Her mime is clear, her dance delicate, yet crisply powerful. She was superb in her solos, and particularly affecting in her interaction with Golfo in the second act. Especially a dancer not brought up in the Bournonville tradition (though he was introduced to Bournonville as a student at the Royal Swedish Ballet school by Frank Andersen who then was director of the Royal Swedish Ballet), and in just his third season with the company, Matiakis was impressive in his solos. His strengths are in his ballon and fast pirouettes, his slightly stiff epaulment hinting that his journey into Bournonville is still underway. In Matiakis' penultimate 3rd act solo, debut night nerves seemed to surface just a bit in the form of a very slight rush in the steps. First time jitters aside, however, it was a delightful, passionaate debut, and the company has found a jewel in this pairing and casting.

The other major debut was that of soloist Morten Eggert as Golfo. The second act of "Napoli", set in Golfo's grotto, is the newest, last reset and rechoreographed by Dinna Bjørn in 1992. Perhaps because it is farthest from the original, Act 2 lacks some of the vibrancy of the surrounding acts, and the character of Golfo can be very much a cipher. Eggert, however, breathes fresh life into Golfo, bringing a much-needed sense of drama back to the Grotto scene. An extremely valuable dancer, for he combines great dramatic skills with a medium height and solid muscularity that allows him a wide retpertoire, Eggert is the type of dancer who can be counted on to get the most out of a role. Here he was a muscular Golfo, whose powerful presence was conveyed in slow, purposeful movements countered by explosive dancing. More so than other recent interpreters of the role, Eggert gave the role a bit of otherworldly sex appeal, which made sense in the context of Teresina's slight hesitation in her final farewell to Golfo.

In the cascade of dances, including the pas de six and sensational tarantellas, which form the core of Act 3, there were also a number of debuts. Sebastian Kloborg's first solo is still a work in progress, for whilst he is blessed with breathtakingly long, lean limbs, the steps seemed a bit rushed and unfinished. Yet it was indeed a solid performance with much to recommend it. He was followed Ulrik Birkkjær, another of the long limbed young Danish men and also making his debut. Birkkjær showed the control that Kloborg hasn't quite mastered, matched with elegant epaulment. Mads Eriksen, the other debutant, was equally as impressive in the first Tarantella. However, the very tall, solid Eriksen was jarring mismatched with the tiny, petite Claire Ratcliffe. The pad de six and tarantella women had many years of experience behind them, with Lesley Culver, Susanne Grinder and Amy Watson putting in a good effort, and Caroline Cavallo sparkling above them all. Cavallo is surely the current company MVP, for by Christmas break, she will have danced three "Swan Lakes" and at least one "Napoli" in just one week. Finally, continuing his flawless transtion to character dancer, Peter Bo Bendixen has progressed from Gennaro, to Golfo and now for the first time, Friar Ambrosio. If still a bit young looking, he most certainly has the gravitas and stage presence for the role. Though much of his time will now certainly be taken up with his directorshop at the Tivoli Pantomime Theatre, one hopes Bendixen will continue to be seen in such character roles.

"Napoli" made for a festive and uplifting evening, showing off emerging and existing talent and celebrating the most Danish of ballets. It was a bit deflating to see a fair number of empty seats, for it detracts from the atmosphere and an enthusiastic crowd can adds a vital spark to any performance, no less a debut. Unsold seats seem almost inexplicable because Copenhageners have the benefit of relatively inexpensive tickets, excellent public transportation and one of the finest ballet companies in the world. I hope they will come out to support their arts companies, as they have at the New Opera House.

Author:  ksneds [ Thu Dec 21, 2006 4:51 pm ]
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21 December 2006

For the second performance of "Napoli" this season, the lead roles were in the hands of some of the most experienced dancers in the company. In a company where the constant demands of multiple casts in varied repertory don't usually lend themselves to constant pairings, Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen have developed a long lasting and exquisite on stage partnership. And they are without question, the two finest Bournonville dancers of their generation, and the presence of Queen Margrethe at this performances is probably an indication of how highly they are regarded.

Lund has danced the role most recently with Tina Højlund, Bojesen not having danced the role in recent seasons. But their partnership was flawless. They give the roles a softer, more genial edge than did Matiakis and Cuni who were rawer and more wild. In solos and pas de deux, they were nearly flawless, with Lund achieving height in his jumps that is truly gasp worthy. He had one scary moment in Act 2 when an over enthusiastic male sea creature hurled him with such force that he slid nearly into the wings, returning with a hand on one hip. Fortunately Lund did not seem to have suffered any ill effects from his near ejection from the stage.

Fernando Mora made a solid, if not especially impressive debut as Golfo. Mora, a long time soloist, has the height and fierce expression, but his slender figure looked overwhelmed by the bulky costume. So far of the Golfos I've seen , only Morten Eggert and Peter Bo Bendixen have really had solid enough physiques to look at home in the costume. On slender guys, the plasticy scales and huge belt look oversized. Mora did bring a nice athleticism to the role, and his sea creature henchman were more than realistic in trying to prevent Gennaro from rescuing Teresina.

Other debuts inlcluded Erling Eliasson as a genial Friar Ambrosio, and a handful of dancers in the third act Pad de Six and Tarantellas. Camilla Ruelykke Holst was enchanting in her first attempt at the 'pink dress' solo. Sebastian Kloborg looked more at home in his pas de six debut (blue belt dancer), though he had a noticeable early stumble out of finishing pose. Very impressive (a debut also, I think) was Ulrik Birkkjær who added a nice nuance and phrasing to his solo, ending with a beautiful balanced pirouette of the type that impressed me last week in Swan Lake. The final turns to pose seem to be a frequent source of difficulty for the men, partly I'm sure because the low position of the bent leg is not natural for today's dancers, so it was a treat to see Birkkjær finish so neatly. Alexander Stæger was more successful in the role that gave Sebastian Kloborg a bit of trouble last night (red belt solo). The final turns gremlin did surface, but he has nice streched lines and a soft plie, handling the fast grand plies with aplomb.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:13 pm ]
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Back in Scotland after the trip to Denmark and holidays in New York, some later thoughts on "Swan Lake" and "Napoli".

Looking back at press images and program photos, I was able to determine that there are costume differences between the NYCB and RDB versions of "Swan Lake". I think the NYCB white swan costumes are more elaborate than the originals at RDB. It also appears that at NYCB, Siegfried's 2nd act costume has white in the tunic - much more flattering than the all black tunic for the RDB Siegfried (which makes even the slenderest Siegfried look oddly rotund).

It would be fascinating to do more research on the differences and why they were made for the NYCB staging. Was it to do with the body types of the dancers in the roles, the lighting quirks of the two theatres or other reasons...

As to "Napoli"... I've been thinking more about Tim Matiakis' debut, and Thomas Lund's performance the next night. Prior to this trip, other than seeing Kristoffer Sakurai's debut in March 2004, I'd only ever seen Lund in the role of Gennaro. There is no-one in the company who can dance Bournonville like Thomas Lund, but I really enjoyed Matiakis' performance because it was a different, but euqally valid, take on the role. It was an interpretation that struck me as being very well thought out, something I don't remember feeling at Sakurai's debut.

I find that seeing a different dancer in a role can not only be refreshing, but can help to clarify my thoughts on another dancer's interpretation. Also because each dancer approaches a role differently with emphasis on a slightly different set of little details, it can give me more insight into a role. Lund's Gennaro is raffish, but gentle, whilst Matiakis' was more impetuous with a harder edge - both perfectly valid and enjoyable to watch for different reasons. Lund is pure Bournonville, Matiakis more realistic Napolitean. And I wouldn't choose between the two, rather I'd hope to see them both in the role.

I did notice however that in his debut, Matiakis seemed to be over-reliant on putting his head in hands/sobbing into his hands to convey his grief in the end of Act 1 and begining of Act 2. It could well have been the result of debut nerves, but whilst it is not a huge issue, it does make the interpretation a bit one-dimensional, and could be a point to think about for future performances.

Over the course of the week of rehearsal and performances leading up to Tim Matiakis' debut, I often wondered who might be yet again, the next debutant as Gennaro. All things being equal, uninjured and healthy, my choice would be, without a doubt, Morten Eggert...the one dancer I think now has the right combination of talent in Bournonville mime & skills and the natural raffishness for the role. Also Nicolai Hansen.

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