“Symphony in C”
When attending a performance of “La Sylphide” and “Symphony in C” with the Royal Danish Ballet, one is likely to assume a great performance of the Bournonville ballet and a good try on the Balanchine. Two recent performances resulted in tepid and tame sylphides and comparatively better C’s.
Originally , it was a well conceived, balanced and beautifully danced production and starred some of the strongest cards, technically and dramatically. This time around Hübbe has chosen, not inexperienced dancers, but dancers without a long track record and maybe dancers with less of an infinity with the Bournonville style and much less experienced dance actors. And it shows .
I have previously put a question mark at Hübbe’s practice of presenting a high number of casts for each ballet. Although one can argue that it gives more dancers valuable stage experience, it also limits the chance for a coherent high level audience experience, because the top talent is spread to thinly on to many casts. And quite frankly the RSB (and probably the other company’s currently mounting multi cast productions) do not have and had never had more than a handful of sylphs , James’, Gennaro’s and Madges at the same time and more often less than that.
Currently four principal dancers have James in their repertoire and even though Silja Schandorff retired, it still leaves three Sylphs available in the current lineup. Still Hübbe chose to present two more James’ and one additional Sylph, as well a new Gurn, Effy and 1. Sylph. It may be the case that several leading dancers are injured, and some may getting closer to retirement age, but this decision seemed unnecessary hurried and the result either an under rehearsed or under directed performance.
Lost in the wood
First cast out was recently appointed principal Ulrik Birkkjær with Susanne Grinder. I have been an advocate on Ms. Grinder for several years, where the elegant and lyrical dancer had far to few roles and opportunities. A few month ago she cut a fine figure as second cast Teresina in a touching and youthful pairing with Alexander Stæger’ s surprisingly real and passionate Gennaro . But somehow the Sylph seems to overpower her, and neither technically nor dramatically did she justify getting the opportunity. She sort of blended into the corps in the divertissement.
As the latest appointed principal, it is not unsurprising that Ulrik Birkkjær is called for as James. Hübbe has been surprising in a lot of his casting decisions but he has constantly showed his belief in Birkkjær with parts like Albrecht, Romeo, Gennaro and now James. Birkkjær’s strengths are his strong technique and jumps and he has shown developments in his dramatic skills with each assignment, and also in this production. However, he cannot show a coherent interpretation of James and as reviewer Monna Dithmer so accurately penned it in her review for Politiken : ” A schoolboy trilled with his new fantasy toy “.
The second cast combines Christina Michanek, a Sylph with a few years experience in the part with Marcin Kupinsky. Michanek is a personality driven dancer with probably more expression than technical skills and she follows Hübbe’s model for the sylphs as a soft and sweet rather than fatal and dangerous creature.
Revenge of a former sylph
Lis Jeppesen, who’s Madge continues to be a work in progress, have opted for yet one more interpretation. I may be on thin ground now but I read her scantly clothed Madge wearing a glittering apron and dropping a sylphlike head gear in the magic soup as an interpretation following the theory that Madge herself is a former Sylph. An interesting interpretation but also one that lacks integration in the production t work.
James in this cast is danced by Marcin Kupinski, the Polish dancer who has been part of the ensemble since 2002. Especially in the last few seasons, he had gotten several larger roles, but there is a significant difference between dancing divertissements and carrying the signature role in the company.
I may have been able to understand these castings better had the chosen dancers been able to show strong commitment and interpretations or just a will to abandon themselves in the work, but there was too much caution and to little daredevil in either casts, and the dimness also includes Christopher Ricket’s Gurn and Louise Østergaard ‘s Effy.
Fortunately the same programme gave us the top notch performance, which is the reason for audience returning and advocating the merits of ballet. “Symphony in C” may be as hard hit as “La Sylphide” regarding injuries, but commitment from the dancers made the ballet work even though some ensembles looked patched together and with Gurdun Bojesen as second movements ballerina, we saw true ballerinaship on the highest level. She communicated her silent message to each and every member of the audience. A message of clarity , style, commitment and beauty. Partnered perfectly by Nehemiah Kish we got the proof of what a ballet performance can and should be. The following movement showed Alban Lendorf likewise perfectly partnered by Diana Cuni demonstrating future promise. This is the perfect alliance between experience and developing talent and this is the way to develop the company. Not by overcasting or multicasting, but by carefully develop and distillate the talent pool. Bojesen, Kish, Cuni and Lendorf reach their quality level by commitment, understanding and demanding progress from themselves. It is to Hübbe credit that he provides the works that can make these dancers shine, but he should not risk the project by accepting lower quality in signature works and roles. “La Sylphide” is the primary jewel in the Danish crown, and that piece of crown jewel should be handled not with overly respect, but with real commitment.
Photos: Susanne Grinder, Ulrik Birkkjær in "La Sylphide"
Gudrun Bojesen in "Symphony i C"
Henrik Stenberg. RDB (c)