Royal Danish Ballet
December 3 2011
First two casts
For some odd reason the ballet have been singled out among the Royal Theatre's ensembles to carry the obligation of catering for the family audience. Not only does the season include Thomas Lund's childrens ballet on a popular Danish television character and Esther Lee Wilkinson's youth oriented "The Neglected Spring". The obligation also includes producing a Christmas run of family oriented productions. Last year it was Christopher Wheeldon's "Sleeping Beauty". The year's December's repertoire consist of 16 performances of "The Nutcracker". Financially it make sense. The season is sold out in advance with no marketing support. Artistically, bending and boxing classical ballets to fit two daily matinees comes with a price tag.
Instead of using one of the three "Nutcracker"s played over the last fifteen yeas (Flemming Flindt, Alexey Ratmansky and Kenneth Greve' versions), Nikolaj Hübbe has decided to bring George Balanchine's version to Europe with the argument: "If we shall dance "Nutcracker" it should at least be the best available". There is no doubt that Balanchine's version is superior choreography. However some of the artistic choices surrounding the production jeopardizes the ballet. The most serious of these are the choice of designer. British Anthony Ward have done most of his work in drama productions, and although several of his choices are esthetically pleasing it becomes clearer and clearer that his choices do not suit neither ballet or Balanchine.
A Balanchine ballet needs space not only floor space, but also room around sides and tops. The choices for the snow scene and second act limits both floor space and headroom and gives the impression that the ballet takes place in a tunnel. Actually in second act in a pink tunnel dressed up with gigantic candy garlands. Ward's solutions for the stage magic comes across as clumsy and un-inventive. By not controlling the design Hübbe ends up undoing some of the benefits of the Balanchine choreography.
Keeping the drama alive
Setting the ballet on the RDB strengthens the ballet dramatically in the first act, where the good acting skills by children and character dancers make a charming beginning. However a Danish audience will wonder why the acting stops abruptly as the performance goes on. In second act Clara or Marie is totally forgotten and relegated to sitting in the back of the stage with no recognition from the performers.
If there is a weakness in Balanchine's arsenal it is the character dances. The Mme Ginger segment gives little opportunity for "The Lady" herself. The Flindt version which has played over 250 performances had it strenght in the character pieces, and in keeping Clara central throughout the ballet. I would hate to see his take on the flower waltz again but misses some of his solutions for the difficult narrative challenges.
Another trait in the Flindt version was the choice of making the major leads bigger by letting the grow up prince appear in first act battle and the snow scene. It gave much more exposure whereas the Balanchine version limits the leading dancers to a Pas de Deux.
There is no less than five casts chosen for the production. For the premiere a mature and seasoned cast danced, but save a few roles, the younger second cast faired better. J'aime Crandall was paired with up and coming Jon Axel Fransson and together they presented a crystal clear and brilliant Pas de Deux. From his entré and forward Jon Axel Fransson showed a confident, elegant and attentive prince. He is a dancer who really understands how to present the material and take ownership of the stage. Unless he stops his development he will be a key player in the future of RDB and the only way is up.
In the first casts the much used pairing of Susanne Grinder and Marcin Kupinsky managed a clear round but build little report with the auditorium.
For Dew Drop, Hilary Guswiler's energetic and light performance as well as her beautiful long limps made a much stronger impression than Amy Watson's take. Amalie Adrian got an elegant and coherent Arab dance and Jules Romain's Chinese dance was a wonder of lightness. As Drosselmeyer Jean Lucien Massot made a stronger and more masculine character than Poul-Erik Hesselkilde but both lost the character crown to young Morten Eggert's performance as the old grandfather.
An American in Copenhagen
Following the second performance Nikolaj Hübbe came on stage to appoint J'aime Crandall as principal. J'aime Crandall was born in 1982 and educated at the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C.
Prior to joining RDB in 2008 she has danced in such exotic places like Seoul and Holland. Her promotion comes only 10 months after being made soloist. Crandall has had a fantastic year. After substituting as Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty" she had taken over the lead in "Etudes" and "La Sylphide" and shown great skills in works like "Other Dances" and "The Cage". She is a frequent partner for Alban Lendorf and is developing from a technical bravour dancer to a many faceted ballerina. Her specific talent is to rejuvenate choreography and brings energy and a growing presence on stage.
If asked about my Christmas wish it would be a Royal Danish Ballet whose repertoire was made only by artistic choices. Hübbe must be applauded for trying to bring quality to the commercial necessities, but I would love to free the company from the obligation of bringing little bums in seats and instead to be able to present the classical works with no forced agendas.
1. Amy Watson as Dew Drop
2. First act
3. Jean Lucien Massot as Drosselmeyer
4. Susanne Grinder and Marcin Kupinsky
5. Jon Axel Fransson
6. J'aime Crandall
Watch Videotrailer here