The Peter Schaufuss Ballet
Opera House, Copenhagen
May 29, 2005
Continuing the centennial celebration of the great Danish balletmaster and
choreographer, Harald Lander, the Peter Schaufuss Ballet made it's Opera
House debut with Peter Schaufuss' "Harald". In a mixture of dance and word,
"Harald" endeavors to tell the story of Harald Landers, from his experiences
as young ballet student, through his turbulent years at the Royal Danish
Ballet, as well as pay tribute to his choreographic genius. While
fascinating at times, and a showcase for Schaufuss' talented dancers, it
falls short of creating a widely appealing tribute to Landers.
The first act tells the story of Harald Lander's life, from his entry into
the Royal Danish Ballet School through nearly four decades until his
scandal-driven dismissal as director of the Royal Danish Ballet. The
onstage dance is punctuated by long excerpts from Landers' autobiography
'Thi Kendes For Ret", read by Søren Saetter Lassen. I found the heavy
dependence on the excerpts to explain and connect the balletic sections
somewhat unfortunate, as the ballet seemed to lose some of it's cohesion and
meaning when one could not understand the Danish (That said, the ballet is
clearly aimed at Danish audience and a translation was provided).
Schaufuss has assembled a talented group of dancers, though the esteemed
veteran Danish dancer Adam Lüders (as Landers' father) aside, there is not a
single Dane listed in the regular company. Very intriguing for a company
based in Denmark and performing ballet about a Danish dance legend. In the
opening scenes, portraying Lander's early years, the students from the
company's school featured prominently. The boys in the 'ballet class'
displayed good technique, and it will be interesting to see if Schaufuss can
eventually attract some of these young Danes into his ballet company.
The ballet winds through a series of vignettes, with Schaufuss' choreography
eye-catching and clever, if sometimes lacking in palpable emotion. The sets
- boxes, chairs and tables, are simple and utilitarian, highlighted by stark
lighting. As the adult Lander, Ukrainian Andriy Lytvynenko was outstanding,
moving with smooth elegance and whipping off impressive technical feats with
unforced precision. One of the highlights came in the portrayal of Lander's
Cossack dance lessons in which Lytvynenko and Josef Vesely brought down the
house with their high kicks and ménages of barrel turns.
The vignettes illustrating Landers' relationship with his two wives, Margot
(Caroline Petter) and Toni (Talia Evtushenko) Lander, and the female corps
of the Royal Danish Ballet were the weakest in the a ballet. Involving
contortions around a gray, wooden block and an excessive amount of vulgarly
spread legs, the choreography felt gratuitous and uncomfortable. Though
certainly Lander was no angel, in portraying his supposed indiscretions,
less would have been so much more. After all, the implications are clear in
the spoken excerpts.
The second act is one continual piece, a modern ballet set to a long version
of Ravel's "Bolero"; clearly influenced and inspired by Lander's
masterpiece, "Etudes". The dancers are contorted - alone or in pairs - in
metal cubes, which are lit one by one from stage right to left. Only the
top half of the cubes are lit, so the dancers seem to hover in the metallic
frames as they slowly move in time to the haunting notes of "Bolero".
Eventually the dancers emerge from the cubes, which when righted turn out to
be ballet barres, positioned much like the barres in "Etudes". The dancers
in front dance, no two dancers doing quite the same steps - a collection of
flowing, lithe bodies all moving to the throbbing beat. Behind them emerge
more dancers, who line up on the other side of the barres, proceeding
through a series of plies to releve up to demi-pointe, back down and so on.
As "Bolero" reaches it's crescendo, the dancers line up, and flip the barres
down, to reveal the letters H - A - R - A - L - D, spelled out by the metal
framework. Fascinating, though eventually repetitive, it unique tribute to
Landers even if Schaufuss' choreography pales in comparison to "Etudes".