Wayne McGregor: Chroma
José Limon: The Unsung
Nikolaj Hübbe & Eva Draw: La Bayadére Act 3
The Royal Danish Ballet
February 15 - 16, 2013
This year's Dance2Go, (ballet at budget price) presents a mix of modern, not so modern and classical bravuora dance, but it also presents a clear insight of the main challenge for Nikolaj Hübbe. How to develop the significant talent base in the company while also maintaining and developing the existing talent? Ad the luxury challenge on how to stimulate a super dancer like Alban Lendorf, and you have a very clear view of the costs of cutting repertoire and number of performances. As this programme shows, rehashing and multiple casts is only part of the solution.
When choosing repertoire for this programme I am certain that the possibility to offer up to 16 men a meaty role each was one of the reasons why José Limon's ode to Indian warriors "The Unsung" was rehashed from the "Danseur Noble M/K" programme in 2012. There is just one little significant hitch. Limon's work, best described as old school modern depends totally on the dancers understanding and usage of gravity. The leading principle of classical ballet is defying gravity and classical prodigies like Marcin Kupiñski and recently appointed soloist Jonathan Chmelensky was unable to conquer the demands of the Limon style, whereas dancers lower on the rooster like Benjamin Buza, Gábor Baunoch and most surprisingly lanky James Clarke mastered the gravity and character building. For me the real standout was Nicolai Hansen who created a strong and touching story of the seasoned warrior while simoultaniously not only being in Limon style but also making it more interesting.
One other dancer showed tons of potential in this ballet. Sebastian Haynes presented great stage presence as well as extraordinary coordination skills and maturity. It is difficult to remember that he is still in the aspirant class.
Haynes is also part of the first cast in Wayne McGregor's "Chroma", which fared better than "The Unsung", probably because, even though it is ultra modern, it is choreographed on classical trained dancers. The first - and so far only cast is identical to the premiere cast from last May. (Another cast was announced but has not appeared yet). They were as good as I remembered and - in spite of the more than ugly and unflattering costumes - mastered the fast and intriguing choreography. The cast includes Alban Lendorf and Hilary Guswiler, who both took the leads in the programmes final work: "La Bayadere Act 3".
Waiting in the wings
Guswiler was originally listed for the part of Nikitiya but did not get to dance the role in the run of the ballet in fall 2012. Neither is she cast for the upcoming run, where Susanne Grinder and Jonathan Chmelensky will dance the leads instead of Gudrun Bojesen and Marcin Kupiñski. Stepping in for Gitte Lindstrøm in this programme at least gave her a chance to stake her claims to the role. Although it could not be denied that the first performance of act 3 was marred by over bright lightning and a corps not 100% in perfect synchronisation, Guswiler's performance more than showed what she can bring to the ballet. She is the perfect white tutu adagio dancer with exquisite long limbs, elegant lines and a secure technique. She eats up space and bring a pleasant dynamic to the steps.
At present she can dance much bigger roles, than what she is given. But so can several of the other dancers. And that is Nikolaj Hübbe's great dilemma. It is probably not feasable to add another cast with the relatively low number of performances of "La Bayadere", and both Lindstrøm and Bojesen who are outstanding in the role should offcourse be used while they are are still on the top of their game. Behind Guswiler is a trail of of promising dancers like Caroline Baldwin, Stehanie Chen Gundorf and Ida Prætorius, all with ballerina potential.The forced cutting of numbers of productions and performances present Hübbe with an almost unsolvable puzzle. Even the most talented dancer cannot develop without getting significant roles and even though it is clear that he try to get as many ballets with as many meaty roles as poosible, there are not enough to get around the deep talent poole. Ideally there should be a least three more full evening programme and 20 more performances annually.
His other significantly smaller challenge is related to our superstar Alban Lendorf. At the second performance of "Bajadére" act 3, Lendorf showed us his full skill packet, not only in his pyrotechnical feats, but also in his focus, communication with the audience and dedication to his craft and the ballets inner life. It was a stark contrast to what fellow principal Ulrik Birkkjær managed on the first performance. I do understand that Lendorf present stiff and almost unreachable competition, but I expects more from a seasoned principal, who has danced almost every leading male role in the classical repertoire. Birkkjær seems in general to rely on his rather solid technical repertoire and to care little about finishes and dramatics depths. It may have been enough pre-Lendorf, but when compared with the full package that Lendorfs offers, Birkkjær's performances dwindles. It may be impossible to reach Lendorfs present level, but by focusing on being a good partner, getting a better style and more stage presence, Birkkjær should be able to create a better impression than what he has done here and in the full "Bajadére". As it was Guswiler did not get the support a ballerina should be able to expect from a more seasoned partner, especially when faced with substituting a role on probably short notice. Luckily Guswiler could create the performance on her own.
Lendorf's rather short stature demands - al least in Hübbe's eyes - that he needs small partners. In "La Bayadére" he is paired with small, brilliant J'aime Crandall, who for all her qualities neither has the allure of a romantic ballerina nor is able to match Lendorf dramatically or stylewise. She seem overpowered on stage and can offer Lendorf little response in where he take the role. Away from the partnership she is a strong dancer in her own right, and this is where she should be used. Lendorf needs partners that can bring something else to the mix like Gudrun Bojesen. It is a luxury problem but hopefully with the deep talent pool this challenge can be solved. Getting more resources is unfortunately a bigger issue.
Photo Credits: Costin Rado The Royal Danish Ballet
1. Company in "The Unsung"
2. Hilary Guswiler and Alexander Stægerin "Chroma"
3. J'aime Crandall and Alban Lendorf in "La Bayadére"