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‘Out of Denmark’ by Johan Kobborg

‘Festpolonaise,’ excerpt from ‘From Siberia to Moscow,’ pas de deux from ‘William Tell,’ ‘Afsked,’ ‘The Lesson,’ excerpts from ‘Napoli’

by Cassandra

September 2003 – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Johan Kobborg is to be roundly applauded for the programme he has put together at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as he has achieved something that is usually beyond the powers-that-be at the Royal Ballet. He has thoughtfully put together a well balanced and interesting evening of works that is thoroughly rewarding for the spectator.

Kobborg himself, together with regular partner Alina Cojocaru, opens the programme in a piece totally unknown to me by Harold Lander dating from 1942 called “Festpolonaise.” To very tuneful music by Johan Svendson that incorporates the familiar Irish air “Lillibullero,” the pair performs a stylish classical pas de deux that shows off both their technical abilities and their considerable charisma.

The next two items were Bournonville rarities, “The Jockey Dance” from the ballet “From Siberia to Moscow,” followed by a pas de deux from the Tyrolean Divertissement of the Rossini opera “William Tell.” The first item features two jolly young men in racing silks galloping around brandishing whips on imaginary horses, along (apparently), the banks of the River Thames. This was followed by an amorous Alpine couple in pretty peasant costumes.   Not one of August B’s more memorable pieces I’m afraid, but blonde Bethany Keating really looked the part and it wasn’t without some period charm.

The first act concluded with the world premiere of a work by that exceptionally fine Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup. “Afsked” is Danish for “to depart”; it depicts the end of a relationship and the sorrows of parting. Superbly danced by Zenaida Yanowsky and Dylan Elmore, they dance out their pain and remorse with a raw intensity. The sublime music by Boccherini gently contrasted with the desperation of dying love while the choreography depicted both anguish and resignation. The storm of applause that greeted the dancers at the end was, I feel, as much because it had struck a universal chord within the audience as it was appreciation of a profound and moving work.

After the interval came that amazing modern classic by Flemming Flindt, “The Lesson.” Sadly neglected here in the UK, I last saw this ballet in 1977 danced by Vivi Flindt, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev. The setting is a darkened ballet studio where overturned chairs and music manuscript paper strewn across the floor indicate that all isn’t as it seems. A stiff, unsmiling woman with a shawl pulled tight and protectively across her torso (Yanowsky) begins to restore order. The bell rings and she reluctantly admits a pretty, eager, young dance student (Cojocaru) who warms up at the barre until the teacher (Kobborg) arrives. He is a gauche, awkward, young man, clearly lacking any social graces. The class commences and it becomes apparent that this man isn’t just a social inadequate, but a crazed being unable to control a warped sexuality that develops into hideous violence. The pianist flees and the helpless young girl is strangled against the barre.

I felt that the proximity to the dancers at the QEH intensified the horror one feels watching this ballet and the three dancers were staggeringly good, chillingly convincing and terrifying to watch. Cojocaru was a cute unsuspecting nymphet, transformed into a powerless, doomed victim and that cool beauty, Yanowsky, was unrecognizable as the frosty, unbending pianist, oddly complicit in this depiction of a serial killer at his grisly work. As the demented ballet-master Kobborg was almost completely successful, but I felt his youth told against him and there were a few odd laughs shortly after his entrance. I remember Nureyev in this role, grizzled and unkempt, a sinister presence from the start. Kobborg will grow in this role. He is potentially the finest dancer-actor we have seen in years and his performance in “The Lesson” was ultimately, totally commanding in its gruesome intensity. His comparative youth though made me wonder for the first time if the pianist could actually be the teacher’s mother. It would explain her unfeeling acceptance of a crazed murderer.

Flemming Flindt himself took a curtain call at the end of the ballet, giving us the opportunity to acknowledge the creator of one of the finest dance dramas of the 20th century.

In the final piece of the evening it was back to Bournonville with the familiar pas de six & tarantella from “Napoli.” Familiar to the audience perhaps, but not to the Royal Ballet dancers accompanying Kobborg. Frankly they were lacking that quality I always think of as the “Bournonville Bounce,” though the girls seemed to be picking up the style a little more readily than their male colleagues. The problem could be solved by the Royal Ballet finding room for Bournonville in the repertory. This is always a fun, uplifting divertissement and only the mean-spirited would dwell on any minor shortcomings.   Even if we can’t have “La Sylphide,” at least this pas de six would be a start.

Finally, a message to Mr Kobborg: Can we have more of the same please?

 

Edited by Jeff.

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