"Exit, Pursued by a Bear"
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (new cast)
"Gala performance for the Queen"
April is Shakespeare month for the Royal Danish Ballet. Not only is the repertoire dominated by Neumeier "A midsummer night's dream" two new Shakespeare related ballets Louise Midjords take on "Othello" with a young cast and Pontus Lidberg's "Exit, pursued by a bear" with a senior cast, the gala for the Queen's 70 birthday also included the pas de deux from "Romeo and Juliet". Can one get too much Shakespeare is a reasonable question to ask, but Can one get good choreography is an even more relevant one.
Last season, Louise Midjord's "Othello" , created as a part of the effort to attract a younger audience became a surprise hit and launched the career of Alban Lendorf. It is by far the best ballet she has ever made and it suited the purpose of providing a work that can give a young audience a feel of the real thing in a hip and cool production. This season "Othello" is part of the "grown-up" repertoire, and presents two full casts, giving the possibility to view the deep talent pool rumored to be found in the aspirant class.
Lost in a wood
The reason is certainly not that is is overshadowed by Pontus Lidberg's work. Like Midjord he has chosen a Shakespearean theme, but where she carefully follows the plot, Lidberg cannot keep within his chosen theme from "A Winter's Tale" but ends up mixing the characters from "A Winter's Tale" with the main trio from "A Midsummer Night's Dream". It brings an interesting mix of characters but a weak storyline. In the program notes it is listed that there has been a dramaturgist involved with the ballet. I suppose that means that the work should have some sort of a plot and coherence. But in reality very little happens. The main qualities are the simple and beautiful decor and the strong presence of the character dancers, especially veteran dancer Flemming Ryberg as Puck and Mette-Ida Kirk as second case Titania. But character's dancers need stories to tell and are left here with almost nothing.
I do not know whether the decision to focus this production on the youngest and the oldest dancers was an artistic choice or a practical one. The first option is a valid one as the company almost can be said to be three companies in one, the future, the present and the past. But I suspect that it was as much a practical decision dictated by the knowledge that the company could not handle a full scale choreographic process and completing a run of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" simultaneously. Whatever the reason, the company has ended up with a performance made of the best intentions but not quite constituting a full performance. One must forgive the occasional mishaps, but there is a long tradition for half baked and underachieved attempts of new choreography at the RDB. I do not know if the reason is that the company underestimates the effort and commitment needed when creating a new work or whether the concept are not worked through in a professional manner.
New players on stage
A ballet company should not be judged only on its established stars. As the Royal Danish Ballet's major stars are more absent than on the stage, the focus shifts naturally to the second line, who have to up their game, some with more success than others.
In a "A Midsummer Night's Dream" both designated Pucks backed out due to injuries, and that cleared the stage for Mr. young and upcoming star extraordinaire Alban Lendorf, not only to take over as Puck but to dominate the whole performance. One could only ask why he had not been cast as Puck originally.
Albert Lendorf combines high technical skills with a strong talent for acting and comedy. The only thing holding him back is that he is not built like a dancer but more like a wrestler. Nikolaj Hübbe has proven himself a careful and considerate mentor of this extraordinary talent by giving him the right roles at the right time and Lendorf more than proved himself a competent Puck, but redefined the part.
Even though the production started with three casts for the main couple, injuries(?) made cross casting necessary and now a fourth couple has been on stage. First cast Hermia and Lysander, Amy Watson and Gregory Dean have been upgraded to the leading parts as Titania and Oberon. Amy Watson has the advantage of being the type for the role and creates a lovely and sensual Titania, whereas Gregory Dean, who has been very much the substitute player for a number of ballets still has to define himself as a dancer on stage.
It cannot have helped either of the pair that simultaneously they had to rehearse and perform major roles in the gala celebrating Queen Margrethe's 70th birthday. The queen has selected her favorite pieces, so Watson had to dance the Black swan pas de Deux with Nehemiah Kish. Watson is a great Odette but a lesser Odille and it showed. Kish danced in his usual manner, breaking control occasionally to try to overexcel at various points. Rumor has it that he will join Royal Ballet in London next year. This will leave a significant gap in the danseur noble emploi, hit hard by the continuous absences of Mads Blangstrup, Andrew Bowman and Kristoffer Sakurai. The last two have been almost absent for two seasons. The gala also included a tepid pas de deux by Heidi Ryom, the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" and the tarantella from Hübbe's "Napoli". Regarding the latter it was clear that it does not function as a stand-alone piece. You can make a point of including the character actors in the variations in a performance of the whole ballet, although why Gennaro and Teresina should choose to celebrate with their enemies is beyond me, but in a stand alone performance it simple breaks momentum and limits the impact. Nor does the scooter ending build an image that reaches even 10% of the impact of the traditional cart tableau.
In short RDB at the moment wins some and loses some. Sticking with Shakespeare, the company gets full bonus for its acting skills, but Shakespeare is no choreographer and unfortunately neither of the new crop quite makes it as the bard of ballet.
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