Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville Celebration

Posted: January 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville Celebration

Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville Celebration, Peacock Theatre, January 9

Femke Slot in Napoli (not as seen at The Peacock). Photo © Costin Radu

Femke Slot in Napoli (not as seen at The Peacock). Photo © Costin Radu

To paraphrase a line from Hamlet, there is something not quite right in the state of Denmark. Watching dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet on Friday at the Peacock Theatre is a disappointment and it shouldn’t be. The nineteenth century repertory of August Bournonville is rarely seen here and the dancers are clearly at a high level of training (they are not all, as advertised, principals and soloists, but the two men from the corps de ballet — Sebastian Haynes and Andreas Kaas — are scheduled to dance Prince Siegfried later this year so while we might feel deceived by the marketing we shouldn’t be deceived by company categories).

The stage at the Peacock is tiny, a cramped recital space rather than a regally appointed opera house model. At the beginning of the evening, when the four women step on to the stage to begin A Folktale they look out of scale and there is no space for them to fully express the choreographic patterns, especially when the three men join the fray. I can’t imagine principals and soloists of the Royal Ballet performing in such a theatre in Copenhagen even if the city were unfortunate enough to have one. Neither is there any scenery for these primarily narrative ballets; a blue cyclorama just isn’t the way to present the Royal Danish Ballet dancing Bournonville in London after an absence of ten years. All the photos in the printed program show the company on a generous stage with a crowd of extras, romantic sets, and lighting to enhance all the elements. I don’t suppose the Royal Danish Theatre uses LEDs to light the stage, but the Peacock does. As if this amateur setting is not enough (let’s not mention the appalling quality of muffled sound) there is an injury to one of the principal men, Alban Lendorf, which must have happened close to the show time because adjusted cast lists were only available to latecomers. In the intricate art of partnering the sudden loss of one can mean the instability of both. It is one of the glories of Bournonville that male and female roles have equal billing and Kaas danced Lendorf’s role in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano with assurance, but Diana Cuni seemed less at ease. By contrast, Marcin Kupinski (replacing Kaas) seemed to relish the opportunity to dance with Sebastian Haynes in Bournonville’s caricature of the English love of horse racing, Jockey Dance.

Bournonville’s choreography is notoriously difficult to master, and the expressive beats and jumps – particularly for the men – come across most successfully here, the strength in the legs balanced by the grace in the upper body. But mastery of the more humble steps — like the en-dedans turns that inevitably end a solo — prove more elusive. Evidently the works that are not disrupted by last-minute changes fare better. The second act of La Sylphide is where Gudrun Bojesen embodies the romantic spirit beautifully and Sorella Englund as Madge shows what mime can be even if you don’t understand the story. In the pas de trois from Conservatoire it is Ulrik Birkkjær who seems to relish the uplifting Bournonville style.

There are only twelve dancers in this touring group and in the final work, Act 3 of Napoli, there are twelve roles. Another effect of the injury to Lendorf is that he can’t be replaced. A change of cast notice that did make it into the program says that Birkkjær will replace Lendorf in Napoli, but Birkkjær is already in it. Lots of shuffling around, perhaps at the last minute with little or no time to rehearse, is destabilizing and the evening’s performance of this upbeat work suffers from a lack of cohesion and confidence.

Let’s put the disappointment down to a bad day; they happen. And let us hope performances are better this evening and that the full company can return to London in circumstances more befitting its stature. Nevertheless, this is evidently a show on a shoestring (not, however, reflected in the ticket prices) on a tour managed by the already overburdened Birkkjær, that does not do justice either to the dancers or to the rich tradition of Bournonville himself. Somewhere in the wings perhaps his ghost is trying to squeeze by.


PS  It escaped my attention that Alban Lendorf was dancing Swan Lake just down the road at the Coliseum with Tamara Rojo and English National Ballet the night before. His appearance as guest artist had been announced the previous September so were the Bournonville Celebration dates in London arranged around his appearances with ENB or the other way round? Either way, this was bad planning for the Danish dancers, but not for ENB: Lendorf was unable to dance in the three Bournonville performances but he partnered Rojo again on January 14 and 17.