by George Balanchine
Directed by Suzy Pilarre
By George Balanchine
Directed by Richard Tanner
Symfoni in C
By George Balanchine
Directed by Merrill Ashley og Stacey Cadell
For most of the Danish ballet audience, George Balanchine is the creator of New York City Ballet and the employer of Danish male talent. It is not well known that Balanchine has spent two long periods at the company and had the climate been more appreciative, his story could have been our story.
One of the charms of having Nikolaj Hübbe as Ballet Master is his knowledge and love of the Balanchine heritage, and as his first Balanchine outing he has selected two masterpieces with long performance histories at The Royal Danish Ballet for an evening tying the knot of the happy combination of Mr. B and the other Mr. B's company.
In 1955, just nine years after George Balanchine created "La Sonnambula", the work had its Danish premiere and became a long stay in the company and an audience favorite, especially with the first cast of Margrethe Schanne and Henning Kronstam. It was an ideal choice for a company, whose style and focus was formed in the romantic period, and it matched generations of Sylphs and James.
Silja Schandorff, the sleepwalker in this season's premiere cast, first danced the role in 1993, when the ballet was reviewed for the Balanchine festival. That production was masterminded by John Taras and done in the decor from the 1955 version. For this new production, new and less grotesque scenography and costumes have been made and some of the oddities of the ballet has been changed into a more political correct mainstream look. For instance, the Negro couple has been changed into an Oriental duo.
I can understand why "La Sonnambula" may look very different to an NY audience, but it was made that way by Balanchine himself, and is testament not only of the theatrical and choreographic style and taste of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo era, but also of what Balanchine can achieve when interpreting another important period. Please do not tamper with the evidence!
The premiere was hit by several last minute cast changes and it look like Mads Blangstrup, who would be the natural choice for the male protagonist the poet, was one of the dancers who had to pull out. Hopefully he will be able to return to the production because, based on the stage photos, he builds an impressive character. Instead the premiere was danced by Marcin Kupinski, who this season is definitely moving out of his brother Dawid Kupinsky's shadow, Dawid Kupinski who graced the RDB for a couples of seasons is a classical demi charactere type, whereas Martin is more princely material. He did a ok job, but is so far no match for Silja Schandorff at the sleepwalker.
It is very considerate of Nikolaj Hübbe to allow us a last glimpse of Schandorff as a Balanchine ballerina,and "La Sonnambula" really uses her mystery and ability to be expressionable in a role doomed to present an unexpressionable face. Could we only get her Terpsichore as well.
Meet Mr. Lendorf
There is nothing better for a ballet viewer than to view the debut of the next great thing. Rumors have long told that Alban Lendorf, a first year dancer was more talented than most of his peers, and in the school performance of "Othello" earlier this season he presented a strong and nuanced Jago. In "La Sonnambula" he took center stage as the Harlequin and not only showed strong technical skills but a impeccable timing as well. Lendorf is a small sturdy dancer with high jumps, strong pirouettes and stage presence, not unlike Niels Kehlet in talent and type. He will also dance the 3rd movement in "Symphony in C" this week, and you may soon found out more about him, as he will take part in "The Erik Bruhn Prize." His partner in the competition will be Hilary Gussweiler, a young Danish homegrown dancer with an international name. They will dance "La Sylphide" for the competition, and Ms. Gusweiler showed her budding ballerina talents as a side soloist in "Symphony in C" 4. movement.
How many stars do you need?
Like "La Sonnambula", "Symphony in C" has also a long history with RDB and have been performed sporadically since the 50ties. For sporadically please interpret not often enough! But due to the frequent visits of NYCB, we have been able to see the ballet at least every third year. In my view it is a basic human right to see "Symphony in C" and it is joyful to finally see it danced in Copenhagen on a stage large enough to encompass the full example. Thank you once again Mr. Møller for sponsoring the new opera!
The new production is directed by Merrill Ashley, and like "La Sonnambula" we were again faced with the small or greater difference between the NYCB ways and the Copenhagen practice. One of the reasons why "Symphony in C" have always been a suitable ballet for RDB, is the fact that is is choreographed for four different types of dancers, which the RDB can match based on their dramatic skills and history based repertoire. A revival in the 60ties had a first cast consisting of Kirsten Simone and Henning Kronstam as the brilliant showy couple in 1. movement. Romantic, lyrical Anna Lærkesen with partner (Palle Sørensen) in 2. movement. Leading demicaracter Niels Kehlet with soubrette Solveig Østergaard in 3 movement, and finally Ruth and Werner Andersen as the strong but less visible couple in 4. movement. The casting principle was type, so the established stars Simone and Kronstam was in 1. movement because it matched their type and the younger couple in 2. movement as they matched that type. This is also what I have experienced with the Paris Opera Ballet.
In many of the performances I have seen with NYCB, the casting did not follow this employ. The top ballerina would dance 2. movement, whether she was the type or not, and on several occasion the other movements were cast with soloists rather than principals and out-of-type dancers. In all it changed the balance of the works from four equal movements, to a star pas de deux with a supporting cast. I am making this points because I recognized some of this tendencies in this new production. Silja Schandorff is a natural for 2. movement. She is also the leading ballerina. It is not where my concern is. But 1. movement was curiously cast. Based on her brilliant Odette and lyrical style I would have imagined Amy Watson as the second cast 2. movement. But instead she was placed in 1. movement which did not matched her strengths. Gudrun Bojesen who could be a natural for 1. movement was in third and will be second cast for 2. movement. The right placement it you follow the rooster but not if you cast by type.
The ability to match the type is one of the main reason for including "Symphony in C" into the RDB repertoire, and I will argue that type casting will benefit "Symphony in C" here and in New York as well. In all it was a fine performance, but 1. movements was also subjected to another mismatching on soloist level. Last time around the part of the two female soloists was danced by principal Marie Pierre Greve and Gitte Lindstrøm, who was made a principal soon after. Although you can call it overmatching these parts has always been filled from the top of the corps de ballet. This time however height seem to have been the key casting factor, so not only was Amy Watson placed in the wrong movement , she - and she is not a small girl - was dwarfed by the soloist girls, who was not really front line tutu material. And curiously, leading soloists Susanne Grinder and Christina Michanek was casts as soloists in 3. movements in lesser demanding roles. The male soloists did a good, but not outstanding job.
The evening began with "Symphony in 3 Movements", a work we have seen here many times with NYCB but never with the RDB. I can understand why Hübbe has chosen the ballet, as it includes a lot of work for corps and soloists, and they certainly learns to dance fast. But this work does not really reflects the RDB strengths as the other two ballets or works like "Agon", "Serenade" and "Apollon" does. I would also have preferred an even newer Balanchine work like "Mozartiana", which Balanchine choreographed on Danish star Ib Andersen. As it was we saw great dancing from Thomas Lund, who has been a less frequent guest on his home ground this season, in the leading pas de deux, where he was paired with a bit too Altmodish Yao Wei. In spite of good work by the two side couples. Grinder and Diana Cuni with Christopher Rickert and Ulrik Birkkjær, the whole effort did produce little impact.
For the next season Hübbe will introduce a lot of Robbins, including "Dances at a Gathering" a work we have been waiting for for 30 years as well as Balanchine "Serenade." It is to be expected and applauded that he brings in the best of the NYCB repertoire, but as this very good program shows, is that the emphasis should be on the works that has a natural affinity with RDB style and tradition. Choosing those works the audience will get not a mere replica of NYCB, but the symbiosis of a great choreographer and a company that can ad new interpretations and magic to his works and thereby pay back the gift of good choreography.
Photo: By Kyle Froman Copyright(c) The Royal Theater
From top: Silja Schandorff and Nehemiah Kish, Silja Scandorff and Marcin Kupinski, Marcin Kupinski, Gudrun Bojesen and finally Yao Wei and Thomas Lund.