"La Ventana" directed by Gudrun Bojesen
"The Kermes in Bruges" directed by Ib Andersen,
THe Royal Danish Ballet
April 30 and May 3, 2013
Two leading interpreters of the Bournonville style, Gudrun Bojesen and Ib Andersen, present their take on how to stage Bournonville today, and their views could not differ more. Where Bojesen goes outside Bournonville to give "La Ventana" more story and a link to Flamenco, Ib Andersen embraces the tradition and tries to go deeper into the inherited material. One strategy succeeds and the other fails.
Gudrun Bojesen has bought the reinvention strategy and has put the smashing bagatelle "La Ventana" throught the grinder. She has infused the work wih a large dose of flamenco, guitar, song and manners, added an intro scene, dissembled the corps and included a group of stock characters. Decorwise she has borrowed the extra stage, created over a part of the orchestra pit from Neumeier's "Ladies of the Camillias," and like Neumeier defined it with oriental carpets - and she has messed with the choreography.
None of this brings any positive to the production. I suppose that Bojesen and her dramaturgist Ole Nørlund wish was to make the otherwise rather abstract ballet more real Bournonville and to force a link with the Spanish dance tradition. But this has never been Bournonville's own plan for the ballet. His idea was to show that he could do Spanish dance as well as the touring companies of his day. In 1986 Danish troubadour Ingolf Olsen made a television programme with leading Bournonville dancer Flemming Ryberg to tell the story of Spanish composer Fernando Sor and the Spanish wave in the 19th century. This was the Spanish culture Bournonville embraced and made part of his own style through several Spanish themed ballets. The Flamenco tradition, developing during the same period, was not a part of of the cultural exports. The forms have somewhat merged later, so a flamenco troupe today can include a bolero or a sequidilla. But in Bournonville's time it was totally separate and flamenco was not a performance industry.
Gudrun Bojesen has spoken much about the project and has even refrained from dancing the leads in "Sleeping Beauty" and "La Bajadére" to focus on her directing debut. She has turned, but unfortunately overturned, every stone in the project. The result speaks more of her eager than of her success. The decision that this production should be a low cost effort has resulted in making it a stylistic mess. The senor is dressed like a latin ballroom dancer, the other costumes go back more than 40 years. The scenery is all over the place. One key scene is hardly sketched, while another is over emphasized by an over the top pergola.
In the traditional version, the pas de trois is done before the senorita enters the town square, but Bojesen has broken and refit the elements without any logical need. Poor pas de trois! Besides the lovebirds cosying up in the Neumeier corner, they are also taking over the start of the pas de trois, which, once it gets going, must compete for audience attention with the surplus characters covering the stage, trading, talking, walking, probably added to give a "Napoli" feel to the piece.
Castingwise Gudrun Bojesen has cast some of the best dancers in the company, but she has not cast and paired them well. For instance she has paired tall Christan Hammeken and small Eliabe D´Abadia to dance parallel. And although Marcin Kupiñski and Alexander Stæger are good dancers both are too lightweight to represent the gravity in Spanish style.
Diana Cuni, who has not been seen a lot on stage this season, shares the senorita with busy Amy Watson, but Bojesen has made the role smaller and hide the ballerina's star turn in the mirror dance behind a cover screen and in the back of the scene.
Compared to Bojesen's "La Ventana", the new production of "Kermes in Bruges" has received a luxury treatment. A new full scale decor and costumes replace the meagre decor from 2005, when the ballet was last seen. This time around French designer Jérôme Kaplan has made a astonishing decor and costumes to match the year 1640, the date given by Bournonville himself for his comic adventure ballet, inspired by Flemish paintings. But the greatest luxury for this production proved to be giving the director's baton to famed Danish star Ib Andersen.
Ib Andersen, who had spent most of his career in USA as a principal in NYCB and currently is the director of Ballet Arizona, was the star of Hans Brenaa's "Kermes in Bruges" in the first Bournonville Festival in 1979. He has now returned to save the ballet, where two productions have failed miserably to retain the charms of the 1979 production.
The Art of Story Telling
Although Andersen's version may look a lot like Brenaa's on the cover, it is a clever and in-dept research into what is real Bournonville and what is fake and how to make it come alive for an audience of the present day. Ib Andersen is drawn to "Kermes in Bruges" not because it was a great personal hit for him as a young dancer, but because he thinks the structure of the work is unusual and has a filmlike storytelling. The ballet is designed with four scenes and has myriad characters. One can almost call it an ensemble piece. He also believes that casting is everything, and his considerate casting and work with the youthfull cast adds layers to the ballet and makes minor roles glow.
For the central young romantic couple, Carelis and Eleonora with the great pas de deux, his two casts comprises of company star Alban Lendorf and three first year dancers: Ida Prætorius, Stephanie Chen Gundorph and Andreas Kaas. For the roles of Carelis' older brothers and their fiances he also mostly chose younger dancers, in contrast to the earlier practice of using older character dancers. This infuses the feeling of youthfulness, and when the casts includesa comic talent like Jón Axel Fransson as Geert, a clumsy boy who receives the gift of ring that makes him irresistible to women, more is gained than lost.
It is a draw between the two casst for Carelis and Eleonora. First cast Lendorf and Prætorius are strong dancers, but they tend to pace the pas de deux and that forces Prætorius into a more soubrette style dancing. Second cast Andreas Kaas and Stephanie Chen Gundorph fit the ingenue employ better. The two tall and elegant dancers looks good together and especially Gurdorph have the innocent poetic appeal of the role as well as beautiful arabesques.
But it is as much the supporting roles that benefit from Ib Andersen's grip and ideas. Adrian, the third brother, is usually the weaker of the three, but this time it has been raised to almost equal status through Andersen's strong direction. Jonathan Chmlensky as first cast Adrian has found expressions we did not know he possessed and he managed to present the soldier with a D*Artagnan type swagger and charm. Second cast Benjamin Buza concludes the best three months of his career with a strong and likeable Adrian. Buza has really found his place in the company forefront by strong performances this spring in "Chroma", "The Unsung", as Tybalt in "Romeo & Juliet" and now Adrian. He could be the heir apparent to the employ of a man's man repertoire owned previously by Johnny Eliasen and latest by Jean Lucien Massot.
Regarding Jón Axel Fransson's Geert, he too adds a new employ to his growing collection of prince, bravura dancer, partner and demi caractere dancer, and unfold himself as a first rate comic. Especially his turns as lover for Gitte Lindstrøm's besotted Madame von Everdingen reached the highest level of comedy.
Nikolaj Hansen, a former Carelis, is Geert in the second cast. He is a strong Bournonville dancer and a first rate Gurn. He creates a Geert that is a gentle giant and used his height to great comic effect.
The two sets of brothers present different gags and different relationships. There is no stock gestures at play. Everything is founded on character.
Girls are doing it for themselves
For the girlfriends of Adrian and Geert, Ib Andersen has cast Marchen as a small aggressive terrier, and Johanna more passive, but certainly not her sister's foil. As Adrian stands stronger in this production, Johanna's profile rises and both girls comes across as more real characters. There is little difference between the casts quallitywise. Louise Østergaard and Esther Lee Wilkinson are first cast followed by Alexandra Lo Sardo, the most experienced of the girls, and Elisabeth Damm as second cast.
The corps are eager and understands how every little role matters. Special kudos to Astrid Elbo, who, through the third scenes garden party, never stops her project of gaining the favors of Geert, now irresistable to women.
The two culprits of the ballet, noblemen van Hock and van der Steen, are this time not cast as look alikes. James Clark's Hock are the comical baddie whereas Charles Andersen looks like a handsome Van Dyck model but with a nasty streak.
The way that Ib Andersen works with these many small duos and trios enhances the material and the comedy element in the ballet. He is no less attuned when it comes to the pure dancing sequences in the act three garden divertissement. Marcin Kupiñski gets to use all his lightness and strong technique as the cavalier and really shows us here his talents are best used. Gregory Dean, J'aime Crandall and Amy Watson as the other soloists do well on their usual competent levels.
Bournonville on his own Merits
Following all the experimentation of the last many years, it is so refreshing to rediscover that Bournonville can stand well on his own merits - and Ib Andersen's. This is a production that rightfully takes its place among the best of RDB and should be toured. Hopefully it will launch a new trend and hopefully Ib Andersen is not so Far from Denmark that he could not be persuaded to take on another Bournonville rescue mission or maybe teach "Mozartiana", which Balanchine choreographed on him, to the young team he has developed so well.
Link to protional video and more photos
Photos by Costin Rady Copyright: Royal Danish Ballet
1. Stephanie Chen Gundorph & Andres Kaas as Eleonora and Carelis in "Kermes in Bruges"
2. Marcin Kupinsky with flamenco singer Hilde Karlsen in "La Ventana"
3. Diana Cuni & Alexander Stæger in "La Ventana"
4. Ida Prætorius and Fernando Moro as Mierevelt and his daughter Eleonora
5. Ida Prætorius & Alban Lendorf as Eleonora and Carelis
6. Louise Østergaard, Esther Lee Wilkinson and Jonathan Chmelensky as Marchen, Johanna and Adrian
7. Louise Østergaard and Jón Axel Fransson as Marchen and Geert