(Andrew Bowmann and Gudrun Bojesen)
"Dances at a Gathering" & "West Side Story Suite"
The Royal Danish Ballet,
For a choreographer so well suited to the Royal Danish Ballet, Jerome Robbins' ballets have been the obvious missing component in the RDB repertoire. The productions have been too few and too far apart and more often than not we have had to survive on his small scale works. No other ballet has been missed like "Dances at a Gathering" and missed by generations of dancers and audiences. There cannot be many other ballets so suitable to a high standard dramatically toned classical company. But instead of the real thing the company has presented several ballets that resembles "Dances at a Gathering" like Hans van Manen's "Song without Words". Finally we have our hands on the original.
"Dances at a Gathering" is an ensemble piece and at such a gift to fan culture. You can get all of your favorite dancers at one time, and the length and structure of the ballet do not limit the audience to enjoy ballerina A in a pas de deux with partner B. They will get practically all other alternatives as well. Is is a recipe that will keep an audience happy.
One could discuss whether "Dances at a Gathering" might not have suited the company even better at an earlier stage where the line up consisted of more established stars but that is a fruitless discussion. I chose to be happy that it is finally here, but I would question the wiseness in putting three or, as rumored, even more casts on because it cannot be denied that the talent may be spread on to thinly to cover so many casts. The result is that each cast consist of three maximum four established and experienced stars supplemented by younger dancers,often in their first major role. As a result the work looses the peers among peers quality and split into star turns mixed with fillings.
(Amy Watson and Gregory Dean)
In the premiere cast the two bigger female roles are filled by Gudrun Bojesen and Amy Watson, both bringing the style, timing and personality into good use. The green girl is danced by Caroline Cavallo, Susanne Grinder and Tina Højlund, of whom I have only see the first two. Cavallo has never been a comical dancer and her take comes out as rather fuzzy, whereas Grinder manages to bring a poetic manic touch to the part. For the other two roles we get two completely fresh faces Shelby Ellsbree and Jodie Thomas who both dances well but do not present much of a stage persona. Typewise they both seem to fit the company style and Jodie Thomas does look like having several traits in common with the young Heidi Ryom. It is however Alessandra Lo Sardo who proves to be the real revelation among the new intake. Small, delicate, but covering a lot of ground and very expressive, she handles the major part as the girl in pink extremely well. Although when paired with tall Andrew Bowman several segments take on a Gulliver among the lilliputs quality, but it is to Lo Sardo's credit to keep the artistic quality as the main issue. The male lineup also include Thomas Lund in Brown, Alban Lendorf in Brick, Gregory Dean in Green and Alexander Stæger in Blue. Lund is as expected brilliant, but I had somehow imagined that he would be able to make a more personal interpretation. It may be that the directors Susan Handl and Ben Huys have given the dancers too rigid directions.
Ballet interpretation musical or the other way around?
By including "West Side Story Suite" the RDB pays tribute to the duality of Jerome Robbins. There is no doubt that his choreography for "West Side Story" redefined the musical genre and has been a constant inspiration for the genre ever since. It is therefore interesting to see the dances performed by ballet dancers. Hoverer seeing the suite I kept wishing that Robbins instead of just duplicating the numbers had re-choreographed the numbers with a ballet mind. For instance the signature movement of the three latino boys doing a high developee really stand out but it is only done tonce. Instead Mads Blangstrup as latino macho Bernardo hides behind a screen to pop up like a Punch and Judy character to whack a jet in the head with a baton.
Gitte Lindstrøm scores a big personal hit as a feisty and well singing Anita and dances up a storm with a strong female supporting cast. One would almost wish for "On your Toes" or "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" for Lindstrøm alone!
It is easy to see the link with "Romeo & Juliet" especially when the Danish dancers dance the same characters in the two pieces. In one moment when Anita (Gitte Lindstrøm) and Bernardo (Mads Blangstrup) checks om Femke Slots Maria, one is catapulted back to the image of the same three dancers as Tybalt, Lady Capulet and Juliet. But in the musical "West Side Story" the key roles Maria and Tony are singing roles, so when presenting the ballet suite the key characters have but little presence. Robbins has tried to compensate by adding a small ensemble piece to "There is a Place for Us", but it comes off very sentimental and corny. Only on my second viewing of the programme did I realize what was wrong with this addition, mainly that instead of ballet interpreting musical, this particularly number was musical trying to interpret ballet. And despite good type casting of Femke Slot and Anastasia Pascali as Maria and Sebastian Kloborg as Tony (Nehemiah Kish appeared much too mature for this part) there is too little for them to do.
It is great to finally see Robbins danced in Copenhagen and it likewise great to enjoy the character-infused qualities of the company. Hübbe has stated that he wants to push the dancers' limits and showmanship and with that view, "West Side Story" is a good choice. Unfortunately it does not function 100% as a ballet. I strongly believe that "Who Cares" would fit the RDB very well, so maybe next year. As I waited more than 20 years for "Dances at a Gathering" I suppose I can wait a little longer for "Who Cares."
Photo copyright Royal Danish Ballet