Directed by Nikolaj Hübbe
The Royal Danish Ballet
"A Folk Tale" is the third Bournonville production by Nikolaj Hübbe, following his successful and rather conservative "La Sylphide" and a controversial "Napoli". Like his previous productions Hübbe's "A Folk Tale" shows his skills in making Bournonville come alive, but it likewise shows his problems in accepting some of the core issues in Bournonville's own values. Hübbe has major problems in accepting the christianity in Bournonville's work and he also have problems in accepting that Bournonville is what he is, a genius maker of steps, a pragmatic man of the theatre, who could turn every contemporary successful concept into an effective and pleasing ballet, but Bournonville is not a philosopher nor an artist, who designs his works from a deeper understanding or plan.
"A Folk's Tale" is a significant ballet and a top 3 or 4 in the Bournonville heritage. It is also a good example on how Bournonville patched contemporary success into functional ballets. In this case he combines elements from Johan Ludvig Heiberg's "Elvershøj", known as the Danish national drama, the works of Hans Christian Andersen and traditional Danish folk tales. He includes every success parameter like elf maidens dancing a man to despair, trolls, changelings, a girl in the underworld facing a marriage proposal from a underground suitor etc. But although he includes all these elements there is really no coherence in "a Folk Tale". Does Hilda hunts young men every night? Why does the Højgaard family accept Birthe if they know the real heiress is missing ad has a specific birth mark? Does the family even realize that Ove has gone mad etc.
We have lived with these questions unanswered for 150 years and although Hübbe has put a lot of work into his production, they still remains unanswered. And it does not really matter because "A Folks Tale" has so many unique qualities. One of which is the fact that it is a ballet that contains very little actual dancing. That specific fact has made almost any director to choreographs new solos and pas de deux to make "A Folk Tale" look more like a "real" ballet. And Hübbe also follows this line by choreographing news solos for Junker Ove and Birthe and a pas de deux for Hilda and Ove. When Hübbe created a new pas de deux for Gennero and Teresina in "Napoli" he managed to create a good Bournonville imitation, but here the results are too Russian, especially in Junker Ove's solo. In all Hübbe has managed to get the work to look a bit to much like any international standard ballet.
This, I believe is a consequence of staging the ballet on the gigantic opera stage, that is so much bigger than the Old Stage which in its turn is so much bigger than the stage, where Bournonville choreographed the original work. Of course a ballet can be stretched but stretching a rather intimate scaled ballet like "A Folk Tale" to the opera stage is a gamble. There are gains, including the Elf maidens mad dance which really flows on the stage. There is room for a breathtaking scenography, but the key values of "A Folk's Tale" the character acting, the small scale dance confrontations between nobility and farmers and the subtle poetry has to fight a hard battle to register on the gigantic canvas.
In the workshop introduction Hübbe and Sorella Englund had constantly to remind dancers and mimes to make everything larger, stand at a greater distance from each others, but on the night it proved to have altered the quality and flow in the dancing and the music was slower, a natural consequence when the dancer has to move on a larger space. Everything got more loose and lines drawn out.
Off course the brilliant Pas de Sept could use the space, but Hübbe choose the stop the Pas de Sept midways to give place for a newly created solo for Birthe, before finishing the dance. A change I would like him to reverse and put the solo after the Pas de Sept or loose it, as it does not characterize Birthe half as good as the existing Bournonville solo for her.
Time travel for the sake of time travel
In "Napoli" Hübbe moved the setting to a 50ties Fellini environment and this time he has moved the ballet from its traditional renaissance setting past the period where it was created, named The Golden Age in Denmark to the end of the 19th century. The reason being that this period, known as the provisory time included a poitical conflict which could have led the country to uproar and revolution. Well it never did and most Danes today are unaware of there ever being a conflict which put democracy out of function. But the conflict was not a conflict between rich and poor. It was a conflict between the aristocracy and old money and the independent farmers who had successfully build a parallel power base by forming cooperative exports organisations, shops, dairies and even a parallel education system. As a student of literature many years back I remember drawing charts showing how Bournonville in first act has the farm workers and the aristocrats dance in confrontational lines and in harmonious circles in the finale of thirds act and also seen this a a metaphor for social unrest and the unrest put to sleep when the right and fair management is in place. So you can go though this line of thinking but whether it really brings something to the work is questionable.
Another reason for the time travel is that this period is also the period where Danish art and literature turns realistic and psychological. Given Hübbe's views on religion in Bournonville this period, known as the Modern break-trough and spearheaded by the literate Georg Brandes, who also made a stand for agnosticism is probably much more in tune with Nikolaj Hübbe's own views. And I would recommend him to look into the impressive literature from this period, if he should consider making an original dramatic ballet by his own accord. The works of Herman Bang, I. P. Jacobsen and Henrik Pontoppodan and others are full of the good material and conflicts that Hübbe is trying to infuse in "A Folk tale".
Hübbe and his scenographer Mia Stenholt is also trying to make a case for seeing act two and the troll world below ground as a metaphor for the inner self. Not only do they through various props and costumes try to illustrate the mirrowing from the family above and the family below by certain costume references so that Muri and the chatelaine of upstairs Højgaarden Fru Kristine dresses with some similarities, Diderik and Hr.Mogens both wears a top-hat and the motley crew joining the party include several characters mirroring the servants at Højgaarden. But whereas Muri is definitely in charge below Fru Kristine has no power above so the metaphor is not appropriate and making Viderik the subconsciousness of Junker Ove is missing the mark. One could probably make a better case for Ove and Hilda paralleling each other, each facing an arranged marriage, each searching their mate in another sphere or dimension. And voila! we are back at the principle of the Romantic ballets The Sylph and James, Giselle and Albrecht, Odette and Siegfried, lovers in different existences.
As for the parallel between Hilda and BIrthe as changeling, Hübbe gets more out of one brilliant moment, where Birthe and Hilda standing next to each other catching each others eyes in the mirror than by the entire actions and changes in the whole ballet. These few brilliants moments shows exactly why Hübbe is such a good director of Bournonville and he does not need to put so much half baked philosophy and pseudo psychology to get the heritage come to live. All you need is already in the core material and it is the core material rather than the treatments that makes this producing work.
As mentioned above setting the ballet on the large Opera stage makes difficulties for the mime to register and many details get lost. For example that the menu at the trolls have changed from pancakes to blackbirds. Off the two cast the second casts troll family performed by Thomas Lund, Jean Lucien Massot, Morten Eggert as the trolls and Hilary Guswiler as Hilda succeded best in getting across. Massot and Lund as Diderik and Viderik showed a continuation of there comic duo from "A Midsummer Nigh's dream and played off other with great entusiasm and originality. Together with Morten Eggert, this time as the mother Muri, they can keep the famed mime tradition going for many years to come. Hilary Guswiler, who should be up for some kind of promotion soon, is a true Hilda, combining the sweetness, innocence, poetry and flowing dance qualities needed for the part and her scenes with Lund's timid and yet brave Viderik was full of tenderness. Injury to Sebastian Kloborg put Ulrik Birkkjær in the difficult talk of Junker Ove, the famed non dancing hero of the ballet, and he did not look quite comfortable in the part yet. A part that is very far from his qualities as dancer. What this part really needs is a dancer who can bring his own personality, have great lines and stage appeal. And although Hübbe has provided a solo and a pas de deux for Ove, he remains in many ways overlooked. One of the reasons for this is probably founded in the greater focus on Birthe, the troll living the high life and her other suitor, Hr. Mogens who in this production get more scene time, more steps and for Hr. Mogens not only a theatre company at his disposal, a royal appointment as lord of the chambers, ut also the luxury of been played by Mads Blangstrup, one of the most fascinating dance/actors in the company and himself a great Junker Ove in earlier productions.
As Birthe Soloist Kizzy Matiakis and character artist Maria Bernholdt shares the part, both showing their gift for comedy and timing. It is good that the slap stick of earlier productions is dropped and the character acting put more in front.
In the first cast, Lis Jeppesen who has previously danced Hilda,Birthe and Viderik is reprising the ladder role. She is funny and cute, but also challenged by the large stage . And although Poul Erik Hesselkilde is better than ever as Diderik he cannot really match Massot's performance. First cast Hilda in placed with Susanne Grinder, who dances very well but not really makes a strong impacts. She is paired with Marcin Kupinski, her frequent partner who share her main qualities of light and pleasing dancing, good lines but lacking in the star appeal department.
Following the performance Nikolaj Hübbe came on stage and appointed Marcin Kupinski as new solo dancer. 28 year old Polish born Kupinski joined the company 2002 together with his brother Dawid Kupinski, whom he won The Eurovision Dance Competition in 2001. In the first years it was Dawid Kupinski who got more roles and became a soloist in 2005. He left to join Bejart Ballet Lausanne soon after. Marcin Kupinsky's career really took on when Nikolaj Hübbe took over and he has danced a number of leading role like 2Etudes", "La Sonambule", Lensky, Lysander in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" , James, Albrecht and Siegfried. Marcin Kupinski is an incredible light dancer with a strong techique and well suited to romantic and lyric parts and he will dance several leadin g roles on the upcoming US Tour.
Lis Jeppesen and Mads Blangstrup as Viderik and Hr. Mogens
Susanne Grinder and Marcin Kupinski as Hilda and Ove
Ulrik Birkkjær in Pas de Sept
Maria Bernholdt as Birthe
Hilary Guswiler as Hilda
Marcin Kupinski as Ove
Photo copyrigt (c) Danish Royal Theatre