"A Folk's Tale"
Royal Danish Ballet
January 19, 2012
Nikolaj Hübbe's production of "A Folk's Tale" is his third production of a major Bournonville work. He started from the top with his aclaimed 2004 production of "La Sylphide" followed in 2009 by "Napoli" and " A Folk's Tale" in spring 2011. All three productions are danced this season ("Napoli" although only in Paris) so it could be a good time to evaluate what Hübbe does for for Bournonville and vice versa.
However, changing the timeframe changes more than what Hübbe's has bargained for. Some plots do not travel well, but there are two major decition from Hübbe's side that rocks the boat too much.
First his decition to remowe the Christian connotations in "Napoli" and "A Folk's Tale" which hit "Napoli" hardest. And secondly by not staying firmly on the line he has chosen. In the case of "Napoli" the Fellinisation stops before the third act and suddenly we are back in traditional gear.
On his productions Hübbe has worked closely with dramaturgists and designers. That has led to some stunning scenography and costumes, but one is left with the impression that either the dramaturgist and/or designer has dominated the process or the dramaturgists has not been able to keep Hübbe on the chosen line. In all three works the designs tends to take up too much of the stage and break the one rule of good stage designs for dancing: space and scale. The same mistake happens in the new production of "The Nutcracker", where the dancers are severely snowed in and dwarfed by the scenography. The designers in question has come with a strong track record from drama and opera productions, but they clearly need some lessons in how to design for ballet without working against movement patterns. The peasants costumes in "A Folk's Tale" is a good example. The peasants should appear poor, but ill cut and meagre sack costumes ruins the impact of their dances.
Moving "A Folk's Tale" to the period following Bournonville's death is done to mirror the social uproar and constitutional crisis of that period. Somehow the dramaturgist misses the fact that although Bournonville ballets are idylic his period was even more upsetting than the following and actually being ruled by a king with a nature not unlike the troll girl Birthe. It may make sense to interpret the trolls as the Freudian under-layer, but they still have to dance to the happy naive music of the former period.
Keep it Simple....
These are the main reason why "La Sylphide",even though it is also hit by bad design choices, remain the crown in Hübbe's Bournonville trio. In "la Sylphide" he gets almost all elements in the material right, both choreographically and dramatically. By focusing on the core of the work he shows not only how great a choreographer Bournonville is, but also how good a stager he is himself. Both "Napoli" and "A Folk's Tale" includes many segments that highlights Hübbe's skills as a director, but many are burried by the consequences of bad designs and staging choices.
One of the strong points in "A Folk's Tale" last year was the new take on the role of Birthe, the troll girl in a aristocratic setting. By changing the casting principle from a forcefull ballerina to strong character dancers Kizzy Matiatikis and Maria Bernholdt opened up new dephts in the role. As neither is presently available, Principal Amy Watson who now is casted as Birthe, typewise fit the old employ. The result is that we miss the originality that the two character dancers brought to the part, but on the other hand it made more sense to have Birthe interrupt the Pas de sept in act three to dance her own solo.
On the 19th we got probably the best pas the Sept the RDB can muster with Diana Cuni, Gudrun Bojesen, Camilla Ruelykke Holst, Caroline Baldwin, Alban Lendorf, Nicolaj Hansen and Jon Axel Fransson. It was impressive to see how well Ruelykke Holst danced the solo. Since the 2005 Bournonville festival where she was an impressive newcomer, she has been little seen, but Hübbe has obviously recognised her talent, as as well as several demi-roles she will also dance Birthe at a later performance. Caroline Baldwin did also make a good impression next the Bournonville ballerinas Bojesen and Cuni. When the male wing was filled by our best dancer, (Lendorf), our best Bournonville specialist (Hansen) and our great promise (Fransson) it was joy all around. Jon Axel Fransson confirmed the promise from his earlier roles and one cannot help being impressed by how well he present himself on stage. There is no shy newcomer here.
For the other major roles it was the premiere cast from last year with Susanne Grinder and Marcin Kupinsky as leads Hilda and Ove. Eventhough Hübbe has catered with a solo and a Pas de Deux for the traditionally little employed Junker Ove, Kupinsky and Grinder still fails to dominate the production. The reason is that Hübbe seems to forget them as various points, and that both dancers have difficulties in forcing themselves on the audience. Instead cameo performances like Morten Eggert's butler draw the attention.
The trolls are well handled by Mogens Boesen, Poul-Erik Hesselkilde and Lis Jeppesen, but Jeppesen naturally lacks gravity as Viderik, which really needs a male dancers to appear as heavy as a troll should be. The heart of "A Folks Tale" is in the scenes between Hilda, Viderik and Diderik and the more one focus a production on the trio the better the end result.
Hübbe has partly succeeded in bringing new energy into the othervise rather stale ballet. Trying to force a connection with a specific historic period brings nothing to the ballet. Luckily his handling of the key material is fresh and strong and could very well have stood on it own. There is no reason to dress it up. Both Hübbe and Bournonville can do the job on their own merits.