Ulrik Wivel's Ballet movies on video
Several of the Danish reviewers are wondering, or downright complaining, why Nikolaj Hübbe has bought a new "Sleeping Beauty" instead of programming the Helgi Tomasson version we have had since 1993. I therefore took it upon myself to revisit the former production and make a comparison. As the production was televised New Year's Eve 1995, I only had to search the video stack to return to former days.
If we compare choreography and drama, Wheeldon's version is the big winner. Not only does he present more innovative choreography for the smaller and bigger ensembles, he also manages to bring more dramatic content. His version is also much quicker. There is no reason to make ballet longer just for the sake of presenting more boring choreography, and I certainly do not miss the interpolated solos for the prince, nor the extra divertissements from the last act of the Tomasson version.
There is however one very important area where Tomasson's version comes out at the winner. Silja Schandorff as the ballerina is the high level performance that makes any production of "Sleeping Beauty" worthwhile. With her style, musicality, beauty and effortless control of the Petipa style she created true magic.
Interestingly enough, behind Schandorff, a very young Gudrun Bojesen can be spotted in the corps. And yes, Gudrun Bojesen was the designated first cast for the new production, until halted by a small injury. Based on her recent performances in "Swan Lake", "Symphony in C" and "Giselle" , I am pretty certain that Bojesen could have raised this production to a higher level. Like in "Swan Lake," RDB has chosen multiple casts, but where there are great similarities between the Siegfrieds and Desires, only Amy Watson has so far danced both Aurora and Odette/Odile. For Aurora, soloists Kizzy Matiatis and Jodie Thomas and corps dancer J'aime Crandall have been in action. The three dancers share certain traits regarding their careers. They have all joined RDB after previous engagements elsewhere, Jodie Thomas in Pacific North West Ballet; KIzzy Matiakis, Royal Swedish Balle;t and J'aime Crandall, Korea and Dutch National Ballet. They are in their late twenties or early thirties and they have all done good work in various solos and roles in the RDB repertoire.
But good middle rank dancers do not necessarily makes good Auroras. Kizzy Matiakis has the benefit over the other two in that she clearly does understand that she is the vision in the vision scene, but she was extremely dependant on her cavaliers in the Rose Adagio. Thomas was maybe more secure in her pointe work, but lacks poetry and expression, and Crandall, replacing Bojesen in the partnership with Alban Lendorf, probably with limited time to prepare, can only manage to get through the steps, getting the leg movements right, but missing the subtlety of the arm movements. Although I can give plenty of praise to their partners, Thomas Lund, Alban Lendorf and Andrew Bowman, who looks back in great shape, "Sleeping Beauty" really needs the female protagonist to come fully to life.
Too short a run
When the run of the production is shorter than a month and includes 21 performances, it is understandable that the ballet master seeks solace in a plenitude of casts. But it is a dangerous route, if if means the production compromises standards. While the run has shown three good Bluebirds, exiting new talents like Caroline Baldwin, and a very strong corps, the lack of a really good performance in the key role hurts. I could easier have understood if the cast lists had included one of the young dancers like Hilary Guswiler, who did so well in "Swan Lake," and who can be major player onwards.
Finally a new Danish ballet DVD
Buying a DVD with the RDB has been a difficult project for a very long time. Only four productions are availbale, Glen Tetley's "Firebird", "Napoli" and "La Sylphide", and Jørgens Leth's "Dancing Bournonville," all productions who are more than 20 years old. Now The RDB, in association with Barok film, has made a commercial DVD available with former RDB dancer, turned film maker Ulrik Wivel's three dance films.
It may seem fitting that as Wivel's mother Anne Wivel made a movie on Henning Kronstam (Giselle) and her son has made two movies on Nikolaj Hübbe. The portrait movie "Dancer" which follows Hübbe in 1999, when he did not became Ballet Master in Copenhagen (The commitee settled on Aage Thordal instead!) and "I You Love" focusing on his 2004 production of "La Sylphide". The first movie gives a portrait of Hübbe at a crossroads, preparing to make the transision from dancer to director, only to find himself passed over for a lesser candidate. The second film focuses on the story telling of "La Sylphide" with great footage of Mads Blanstrup and Gudrun Bojesen working on the parts. In reality they were part of differents teams. And it possible for the insider to tell that the stage footage is of Caroline Cavallo and not Bojesen, for whatever reason. Blangstup is also featured in the third film, Urge where a Classical and modern dance couple interact. The film has been made for the international audience and the DVD is subtitled in English.