Second casts in "Etudes", "Alumnus" and "La Conservatoire" May 2011
In most productions the first cast tends to be the better cast, and if looking at Royal Danish Ballet's latest programme, that will be true, if the focus was only on the men. But the good performances from the girls came from the alternate casting of Diana Cuni, Lena-Maria Gruber and especially J'aime Crandall, who proved not only to be good but great.
When seeing a rather tired performance of Bournonville's "La Conservatoire" on first night my thoughts was that it was probably for the best that this production was cut from the upcoming US Tour. But seing what Lena-Maria Gruber and specially Diana Cuni could do for the production turned my views on that subject.
Soloist Diana Cuni has been one of our best Bournonville dancers for more than a decade. Type-wise she is a true soubrette dancer, but her musicality, her abilities to cover ground and accenturate steps have made her one of the most exiting dancers to follow in the company. Her Bournonville skills are really called upon in the production where she do double duties as both leading ladies Eliza and Victorine.
Eliza is one of the best choreographed female Bournonville roles. It make great demands on the ballerina's ability to jump and turn fast and really cover ground. It is related to one of the roles in "La Ventana Pas De Trois, which Erik Bruhn found to be so challenging and so full of male qualities that he casted Rudolph Nureyev for it. There is nothing male about Diana Cuni's performance but especially the variation with the great diagonal tour of jumps and turns constantly changing direction was pure magic with Cuni's abilities to phrase every little and big movement and never looked forced and covering the whole stage.
Cuni's Eliza was paired with Lena Maria Gruber's Victorine. Gruber, a Austrian dancer who finished her education at the Royal Danish Ballet School was made soloist earlier this year and has gone from strength to strength is a series of mainly divertissement roles since her debut a few years ago as the ballerina in fourth movement in "Symphony in C". Gruber's dancing is a marvel of clarity and musicality. Everything she does seems so easy and natural that one may overlook how technically strong she is. She has not been tested dramatically yet but her two roles in Johan Kobborg's "Alumnus" does indicate a talent for both humour and poetry.
But the greatest surprise was yet to come. With few principal ballerinas available J'aime Crandall, who was appointed soloist a few months ago, found herself with one of the most prestigious roles in the Danish repertoire the famed Ballerina in the famed "Etudes".
Crandall joined RDB a few seasons ago after stints at Korean Ballet and Dutch National Ballet and have steadily worked her way up the ranks trough a series of smaller roles and divertissements. She has become the dancer one could rely on in a very large repertoire and so far her biggest roles have been the Russian girl in "Serenade" and Aurora, the later as a substitute for Gudrun Bojesen. But even though she have done very well in these part, her "Etudes" was more than a pleasant surprise, it was a revalation.
Small and fast, Crandall is anything but typecast, but the intelligent way she put all her resources into the role defy traditional types. She has created a whole new way to dance a ballerina role, and with her musicality, phrasing and controlled pyrotechnics, she take "Etudes" where it has never been before.
She was a startling contrast to her two co stars, principals Andrew Bowman and Marcin Kupinsky. Sure they can dance the steps but neither seems to have really worked on the parts, deciding how they should phrase the solos. Crandall had the benifit of Mads Blangstrup as her partner in the Sylph section, the part of the work one would assume what the longest stretch, but also here she managed to build a plausible and personable interpretation. At 28 J'aime Crandall is a seasoned pro, but the achievement should ensure that there will come many interesting roles her way.
In all it has been a good week for RDB. At the annual theatre awards called Reumert after the late great thespian Poul Reumert, RDB won Dance Performance of the Year for "A Folks Tale", on Axel Fransson was given a talent award and Maria Bernholdt won for best dance performance as "Isadora Duncan" and as Birthe in "A Folk's Tale". Impressively she beat Alban Lendorf to the award. But well, he cannot expect to win each week.
Photos by Costin Radu
Diana Cuni as Eliza in "La Corservatorie"
Lene Marie Grüber in "La Conservatorie"
J'aime Crandall and Cast in "Etudes"