The Royal Danish Ballet Repertoire
New Cast La Sylphide/Symphony in C
This is a very busy week for the Royal Danish Ballet. On Friday 26 the will be a premiere of John Neumeier’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with guest star Alina Cojocaru. Earlier the same day next year’s programme will be revealed. A new photo exhibition focusing on artistic nude photos of “La Sylphide” has just opened and the normal performance schedule is filled with performances of “La Sylphide” and Symphony in C”. The first one includes guest performance by Merrill Ashley as Madge. No wonder the company is stretched. Unfortunately it shows in the quality of performance.
It cannot come as a surprise for my readers that I have issues with the numbers of casts in some of the RDB programmes. I feel that talents are spread too thinly and the audience short-changed. On paper and sometimes in reality the matching of “La Sylphide” and “Symphony in C” creates an ideal combination of two top notch experiences. In the Copenhagen reality this has proven something of a challenge. In short you can say that this programme has been cast by all casting principles -- broad, young, experimental, anything but from the top. I do understand that simultaneously mounting a big ballet like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” does put pressure on the dancing resources and that injury may also play a part, but I cannot fully comprehend the artistic decisions re this phenomenal programme. It seems like the programme is dumbed down for training purposes. Gudrun Bojesen has danced in “Symphony in C” in a few performances but not once in “La Sylphide”. There are currently four dancers cast as James, but neither Mads Blangstrup nor Thomas Lund is listed on the rooster. Neither is cast for “Symphony in C”. I can understand that these dancers may have key roles in the Neumeier ballet (I know that Blangstrup is) and it would not have produced any problems for me if the chosen casts had presented the quality one should expect from a RDB production of a key Bournonville work. The sad fact is that they do not.I have seen two recent performances with Nehemiah Kish as James (Kristoffer Sakurai was supposed to dance the second performance). Kish is a strong dancer and has authority on stage, but he is no great dance actor and comes off as a very stuffy James. On the dancing side he jumps high and spins well, but it does not look like Bournonville. His posture is stiff and his phasing peculiar. Like in “Napoli” Pas de six solo, it looks like he is forcing the tempi. He needs to soften up, focus on the quality of the dancing and lose himself in the acting. As a partner in 2. Movement in “Symphony in C” he is a wonder of line, partnering and style, qualities he has not been able to bring to Bournonville. Luckily we can enjoy strong Bournonville dancing and acting from Alexander Stæger’s Gurn, which he has developed into a fully nuanced piece of character acting supplemented by a strong solo. It looks me that Stæger in this part and in his recent turn as Gennaro in “Napoli” has found the key to create great impressions and acting.
Eva Kloborg has also joined the production as Madge. A dancer defined by her elegance and poise, she is however able to create a ghostlike Madge. However the real revelation in Madge’s came from the most unlikely source. Merrill Ashley proved herself to be a character dancer of excellence with a strong grip on the Bournonville style.
Looking back on Ashley’s impressive career, Madge was probably the last thing I would have expected this neo-classical star to excel in. As Madge she commanded the stage and had strong individual accents in her acting. She moved more than the average Madge and it was evident that she had invested a lot of time and intelligence in her performance. I have seen British and Russian dancers, even when coached by the Madge Extraordinaire Sorella Englund, totally lose the part, but Ashley certainly understood all there is to understand and express it to an audience.Scaling down
The “Symphony in C” part of the programme seems to lose a notch or two each performance. By the last performance I saw, Fourth Movement was down to a corps of four and Amy Watson in First Movement is now on her third partner. This time Gregory Dean, a good dancer, but too small for Watson, was put on the line. In Second Movement Alexandra Lo Sardo, who did so well in ”Dances at a Gathering,” is now the ballerina. She has no problem being an adagio ballerina, but she is very small, which limits the impact, and as the soloists in this movement are rather tall dancers, she is often hidden from the audience. To make this casting work, it would have been necessary to re-cast the soloists.
Fortunately Third Movement’s Alban Lendorf and Diana Cuni and Fourth Movement's Lena Maria Gruber and Ulrik Birkkjær are all putting in killer performances, which save the ballet.
In collaboration with the art photographer Paul Wesolek, Nikolaj Hübbe is yet again involved in an effort to revitalize the Bournonville heritage. This time in the format of a photo exhibition, where key scenes and movements of “La Sylphide” is captured on more black than white photos of the dancers in esthetic nude photos. Once again it is proven that Bournonville can take a lot of manipulation without losing the core values. But stripping the dancers (save Madge) from costumes and props gives beautiful pictures but equalizes the characters. When nude there is really not that much difference between the Sylph and Effy and so an audience not familiar with the plot cannot really get the story from this exhibition. It just becomes another beautiful esthetic exhibition of dance photos. A few photos and a video is available online: http://www.kglteater.dk/site/Forestillinger/DKTplus_liste/DKTplus09_10/La_sylphide_still_life.aspx