Royal Danish Ballet
When Frank Andersen hosted the annual outdoor performance at the Castel, his last duty as resigning Ballet Master, he complained to the audience that Kenneth Greve had refused to dance at the performance, as Greve would not dance following his glorious farewell performance a few weeks earlier. But as the performance showed Frank Andersen’s frustration had real reason. Save for Thomas Lund, who only danced the Tarantella in Napoli, all of the current male solo dancers were absent from the performance, mostly due to injury, but it was a significant marker that all is not well in the State of Denmark and particularly in the ballet company. Therefore the performance became an example on how you can create a performance without male stars. Instead, young dancers got a shot of the bravura roles; Don Quixote was represented by crowd scenes rather than the pas de deux etc.
As the new Ballet Master it will be Nikolaj Hübbe´s responsibility to rebuild the male wing, hit hard by the absence of Kenneth Greve and the long injury periods of Mads Blangstrup, Kristoffer Sakurai and Andrew Bowman. It was published a few days later that Swedish soloist Sebastian Michanek is leaving the company after two years, when he too had been much missed in action.
Even with all hands on deck, Hübbe would face a major challenge for the upcoming season. Although both Mads Blangstrup and Thomas Lund can deliver world class performances, both are more niche dancers than all rounders, and neither can totally cover the loss of a star of Greve’s range and calibre. Andrew Bowman has not really developed dramatically the last years and Kristoffer Sakurai has a great line and posture but several limitations in his arsenal.
That Hübbe is very aware of the challenge was evident a few weeks later, when it was announced that Nehemiah Kish of the Royal Canadian Ballet would join Royal Danish Ballet a new principal dancer. At a gala, arranged by young dancers Ulrik Birkjær and Sebastian Kloborg, the audience got a preview of the American dancer, whom we can probably expect in starring roles in La Sylphide and Giselle.
Kish danced Apollo under Hübbe´s direction. He is clearly a strong and technically proficient dancer, but he lacked the originality, intuition and vibrancy necessary to create an interesting Apollo. It will be interesting to see if his stay in Copenhagen can help him to develop a real rapport with the material and the audience. His Terpsichore was Christina Michanek, the talented lanky baby ballerina, who has plenty of stand out quality but still needs more grip on the drama. Femke M. Slot and Amy Watson completed the cast.
The rather ambitious programme also included John Neumeier’s All my Yesterdays, created for Silja Schandorff and Peter Bo Bendixen. Schandorff is still dominating the performance this time with Sebastian Kloborg as her giddy partner. As a dancer he appears to fall on the Peter Bo Bendixen side of the roster. Like Bendixen, Kloborg has a strong dramatic presence and technical limitations in his arsenal. The first act was completed by the Pas de Deux of In the middle somewhat elevated danced by Yao Wei and soloist Ulrik Birkjær, who turned out to be the busiest dancer of the evening. For the intermission the arrangers had obviously been inspired by Kylian’s Silk and Knife programme and the Hot Hot Hot programme to include sideshows, but they had failed to recognise that there needs to be a link between the side shows and the performance to work.
The second act included a pas de six from Silk and Knife, The Flower Festival from Genzano, danced by Louise Østergaard and Alexander Stæger, who together with Birkjær and Kloborg is the most used of the younger male dancers. Tim Matiakis had choreographed a short pas de deux as loaded with meaning and philosophy as most beginners’ choreography.
Second last number was Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, danced by a stunning Gudrun Bojesen with Ulrik Birkjær, who really seemed to be a man with a mission to show the audience and maybe particularly the new ballet master that he is star material. The pas de deux is clearly the best performance; I have ever seen him do. There were a few minor hiccups, but Birkjær managed to find the energy and the virtuoso steps to deliver his message. Kloborg, Stæger and Birkjær are all dancers crying for development and prober attention. Birkjær may be the strongest technician, but all three of them need mentoring and attention to detail, especially the landings in fifth positions. Hübbe’s promise to dedicate time to the daily classes may help these dancers to fulfil their potential.
The gala showed that the younger dancers are ambitious and eager to play a role in the development of the company’s future, but the gala also shoed that there is still a significant gap to the level of the true stars like Schandorff and Bojesen, but nurturing, good casting and the obvious willingness to work can get the process started. It is needed.
Yao Wei new Principal Dancer
During the company tour to China it was announced that Yao Wei has been appointed Principal Dancer. Wei, who joined the company in 2002, is already dancing a large repertoire and one may hope that as a principal she can get the opportunity to specialize and grow as an artist. So far her career has consisted of roles in every genre from Kermesse to Onegin, with Swan Lake and The Little Mermaid as the major roles. The appointment shows that Hübbe is taking care of the second major problem in the company, the dwindling number of active dancing female principals. With Silja Schandorff on her last season, Caroline Cavallo on maternity leave and Gitte Lindstrøm injured most of last season, the line-up is thin and it must be expected that Hübbe will follow up with one or two more appointments of principals and soloist before the end of the season.