An then a Thousand Years of Peace
at the Royal Danish Theatre
Royal Danish Ballet's repertoire
With this season two opening programmes "The Lesson/La Sylphide" and "Virtuoso Steps", Royal Danish Ballet caters for the refined and dedicated balletomanes. It is ballet performance on a very high level. But as a state company RDB has other commitments at well and that is taken care of in the next programmes.
The commitment includes making a ballet performance for younger children, another for teenagers and students and present guest performances by other European companies, make something for the Opera stage and do a family-oriented Christmas show. For these commitments Nikolaj Hübbe - recently prolonged as ballet master for five more years- has juggled the dwindling budget and his high ambitions and selected to feed the young children with Thomas Lund's "Teddy goes dancing" from a few seasons ago. For the student audience Esther Lee Wilkinsson will make a ballet version of a popular Danish novel with Hübbe himself in the role of harsh teacher professor Blomme. The opera stage will get a high dose of Jerome Robbins ballets and the Christmas family audience gets the luxury of the Balanchine "Nutcracker".
Hübbe may agree to these commitments but he also use them to push the case for good choreography. His argument is. " If we have to do "The Nutcracker" we will do the best available".
Thomas Lund has started this season not as the dominating dancer, although his performance in "The Lesson" is absolutely outstanding, but as the dominating choreographer and director if quantity is the measure. As co-director of "Etudes" and with two ballets as choreographer he is here, there and everywhere, almost the in-house choreographer.
With "Bamse" the theatre has accomplished a marketing coup, by gaining the right to use the locally famous children's television characters Bamse(Teddy), Chicken and Duckling and there are a strong pull to bring in a very young audience. Unfortunately it is difficult to get much dancing out the three man-stuffed characters, so Lund as a choreographer is working more around his principals than with them. The plot is very thin, Bamse dreaming about sylphs, swans and "Snuppers" and Lund borrows from proven success material like "A Folk's Tale" and "The Nutcracker". And he certainly creates a part for every ballet pupil Sylphs and Swans for the older girls, a boy group, and chicknettes and Luna's for the small girls. The children in the auditorium is pleased although remains focused of their favourite Bamse, an irritating egoistic bully, but never the less the hero of every Danish nursery. Whether it will recrute pupils for the schools or future audience it yet to be seen.
Angelin Preljocaj's troupe guest with "And then Thousand Years of peace ". Seing Preljocaj's work is seing Modern Dance on a high level and inspired a Danish reviewer to lament the RDB's focus on classical and neo-classical works and argued for a more modern focus at RDB, including works by Prejocaj.
This was very much the strategy of former Danish ballet masters (and indeed including a work by Preljocaj) and the exact strategy that let to an artistic limbo at RDB, decriped very well by Nikolaj Hübbe as the company being the prince of everything and the king of nothing.
If nothing else Hübbe's directorship have ben true to his strategy of limiting the number of styles requested by the company and the results have been no less than impressive. The company have reach a much higher standard in record time, great talents reach principal quality faster, the corps is in optimal shape. Still the director is receiving request to include more modern ballets. At the press conference on last year's repertoire, Hübbe was also criticised for not including more Danish choreographers. The criticism has made Hübbe a bit careful, but not to much, hopefully, about bringing in more Balanchine works.
To me this discussion on whether a primarily classical company should do modern dance is insulting, not as much to the classical company but to the modern choreographers and their dancers. If the critics truly means that a Preljocal work would be danced as well by a group of dancers who would get no more than 6 weeks preparation as by a team, educated in modern dance and with long resumes in the genre, they have no respect for the modern dancers. The other view that it is all about the choreographer and not about the dancers is likewise easy to counterattack. Every ballet company is as much defined by their dancers as by the choreographers. Can we please leave this discussion in the 1980es where it last had some relevance.
As it was the Preljocal troupe did a marvelous job on a marvelous piece of choreography. It may have the subject of the book of revelations, and you could certainly find biblical references, but the true core of the ballet was the mix of modern and tribal connotations. In one scene a group of men is given one the hints of maybe being prisoners and the connotation is strengthed by the surprise droppings of chains from the ceiling. Very few clues are delivered and yet you are constantly inspired and touched by the choreography. In one scene you first gets the impression of seeing nomads on the African plane until you discover that the burkas are nationals flags including a tricolore and Stars & Stripes. The flags then return in the final where they are washed in stage basins and then slung on the stage floor with great effect and you are left with a feeling of having reached some kind of understanding without actually knowing what it is about. Preljocal remains one of the strongest and most interesting choreographers on the modern scene and his troupe of dancers of all sizes seems the ideal media for his work. Please come again, prefarable as a guests.
While these duties has been seen to, the short but sweet run of "Virtouso Steps" came to a fine,but dramatic conclusion. Gudrun Bojesen danced her best "Etudes" but sustained a small injury, not immediately recognised by the audience, who to their great surprise saw Hilary Guswiler in her corps costume and with no tiara do a emergency take over of the ballerina role with great style, courage and aplomb receiving a standing ovations with her partners Alban Lendorf and Jon Axel Fransson. I think the ovations was as much for Gudrun Bojesen, but for me it was, although sad that Bojesen once again was off, also a happy moment realising that the company and the linage is now so strong that even an injury to a star do not kill the performance, but is saved by another unusually gifted ballerina in the making simply taking over.I have just revisited the very fine televised production of "Etudes" from 2005. That production was then seen as outstanding, and it was, but it was also done by the skin of the teeths of the company .
Today they can manage an outstanding "Etudes" with several casts without filling the corps with soloists and depending on internal covers. I believe the main reason is keeping to the strategy of not spreading the repertoire too broadly and stay on the classical base and I hope that in the future we can loose the "Family-oriented" and other marketing-driven initiatives and simply get a repertoire based solely on what is best ballet-wise.