"Donizetti Variations" by George Balanchine
"Etudes" by Harald Lander
Royal Danish Ballet
September 30, October 1, 2011
We all live in financial times and the Royal Danish Ballet is subjected to cuts in numbers of productions and performances. That put special demands on the Ballet Master because the limit for mistakes get smaller. With fever opportunities the hit rate must be higher. With this programme named "Virtuoso Steps" Nikolaj Hübbe shows his high quality levels and his skills in selecting appropriate works for the company and it stars.
"Virtuoso Steps" is just was it says: A wonder of great choreography brought to life by the brilliant corps and soloists of RDB.
August Bournonville is not only the DNA of RDB. Iit is also a source of quality choreography one can turn to in troubled times. The only difficulty is to get a Danish audience to attend the same ballets year after year generation after generation. Last seasons "Bournoville Variations" by Thomas Lund and Nikolaj Hübbe showed a clever way to reuse and update Bournonville in a format appealing to a young and new audience. The schools of Bournonville was turned in to a sharp and concentrated fashion show for twelve men.
This year Thomas Lund is trying to do the same for the female repertoire. However someway along the way Lund must have concluded that the variations for female dancers could not constitute a full ballet and called in the guys. In the final result the guys do certainly not take the supporting role but gets the best bits. There are a little to much overlap with "Bournonville Variations" for instance the flourouscent socks and the solo from "La Ventana", truly one of the greatest male solos in the Bournonville repertoire, but if the heritage is so rich why not pick another one? The frame of the work has a nostalgic quality which make its closer to Johan Kobborgs "Alumnus" from last season and Emilie Walbom's "Dream Pictures" from way back when.
The casts includes a lead couple, two demi couples and 8 ladies and 8 men. The role as leading man is shared between Nicolai Hansen and Marcin Kupinski, whos Bournonville merits I discussed in the latest issue, and in this ballet I again must conclude that Kupinski is a good dancer and Hansen a good Bournonville dancer. In most standard works Kupinski outstanding tecnique and lines will win but in a Bournonville setting, Hansen's grib on style, body placing, exstemly good arm movements and ability to characterice the steps is more giving. On Kupinski night the last part of the Ventana segments was cut, thereby omitting some of the best bits. I do not know why, perhaps never will.
The female lead was shared between Amy Watson and Susanne Grinder. The later the most precise dancer, but Watson managed to bring more joy and feeling to the part. Among the demi's Ida Prætorius showed that her talents, showed last week as the pupil in "The Lesson" also includes a high driven teqnique and style. The corps was impressive, and even more impressive given the facts that most of the dancers including several aspirants was not part of last years Variations. It speaks volume of the talent pool coming out of the school these years.
In all Lund has managed to make a good sequel but I may not recommend to make this an annual franchise.
With Nikolaj Hübbe as ballet master, the company gaines an insider in the Balanchine repertoire and Hübbe has so far shown a strong ability to choose the right Balanchine ballets at the right time for his company. This time around he has visely settled on "Donizetti Variations", last performed by RDB in 1969. "Donizetti" is an obvious choice for RDB as it has some strong Bournonville connetations with a lead couple with demi caractere qualities. but Donizetti proves so much more than a convient choice. It is a top quality ballet on all scales and shows Balanchine's genius as a maker of steps and ensemble movements. And it does not hurt that it is a starring role tailormade for Alban Lendorf.
Speaking of tailormade, it is therefore a bit annoying that Annette Nørgaard's new costumes are unbecoming on Lendorf. I know that a dancer looses weight during performances but Lendorf looks 20 pounds lighter in his costumes for "Etudes" and eventhough "Donizetti" is taxing, it is not the weightloss that create that difference. The costumes for the girls also make them look shorter and rounder and in all the costumes is a bit to operetic. But even a bad costume can not disminish the impact and quality of Lendorf's dancing.He is outstanding in a role that allows him to unfold all his skills.
As written before the only problem with Lendorf is how to partner him. This programme has in two days shown him with tree potential partners. Lena Maria Gruber as his designated partner in "Donizetti" was a fine match and showed a strong and elegant rendering of the female lead. It was great to see how well Gruber matched Lendorf and it could be a partnership for the future. As Tim Matiakis had to bow out of "Donizetti" his designated partner Jodie Thomas also danced with Lendorf, but was not able to expand the range as well as Gruber.
On the first night "Etudes" looked a litte challenged by compared with "Donizetti" and "Bournonville" s well-crafted ouvres. The leading trio repeated their parts from the spring production, and allthough Andrew Bowman, Marcin Kupinski and J'aime Crandall are individually very good, they are not ideally matched. The cast have the benefit of Mads Blangstrup as the partner in the sylphs section.
Second cast proved how good casting and dancing can elevate a ballet to a higher level. Alban Lendorf has expanded his take from the sping and now covers the stage in the mazurka much better. Gudrun Bojesen, who was absent in the spring offers her multifaceted ballerina. Of course she can make a great sylph segment but everything she did from her smooting out of the problematic ballerina variation to the killer tour en manege shows class, dedication and style. For the other soloist young J'ón Axel Fransson confirmed that he is a man for the future. Is it only 18 months since, Morten Eggert in an introducion to "Bournonville Variations" cued the audience to take notice of a young aspirant stepping in as - in Eggert's word - wingman to Alban Lendorf in the difficult "Pas de Vestale" segment? Last night Fransson again came true with his wingman qualities.
But Fransson was not the only youngster to make an impression. As ten leading principals and soloists are currently missing in the line up young dancers and aspirants are filling the ranks with impressible skills and maturity.
The programme is not only well matched. Each ballet is presenting the skillsets and range of the company while driving the company to a higher level. Seldom has so many dancers shown such a high level and the credit belongs to Nikolaj Hübbe and his team, notable Thomas Lund, Heidi Ryom and Silja Schandorff who has drilled the company to perform these works so well. It is one of these programme that make an audience come back and spread the word. And the RDB need a broader audience base.
1. Gudrun Bojesen and Alban Lendorf in "Etudes"
2.Nicolai Hansen in "Bournonville Fantasi"
3. Susanne Grinder in "Bournonville Fantasi"
4. Tara Schaufuss, Laure Drougy and Eliabe D'abadia in "Donizetti Variations"
5. Lena Maria Gruber and Alban Lendorf in "Donizetti Variations"
6. Alban Lendorf in "Etudes"
7. Gudrun Bojesen in "Etudes"
8. Jón Axel Fransson in "Etudes"