Presentation of The RDB Summer Festival
Silja Schandorff & Nikolaj Hübbe:
February 10, 2018
In 1979 the Royal Danish Ballet launched the first Bournonville Festival, honoring the almost founding father of the ballet, company and his legacy of plus 10 ballets. The legacy h has stayed alive and remains a central part of world ballet heritage, mainly his version of “La Sylphide” and his other masterpiece “Napoli”.
RDB repeated the festival in 1992 and in 2005, and it was therefore expected that a fourth Bournonville Festival would take place in 2018.
Since Nikolaj Hübbe took over as Artistic Director in 2008, the issue of August Bournonville’s legacy in the company has been much discussed in the ballet environment. Instead of presenting the established versions of Bournonville´s ballets, Nikolaj Hübbe has presented his own controversial versions of the masterpieces.
In his versions of ”Napoli”, “ A Folk´s Tale” and “La Sylphide” he removed the religious content and added a Fellini touch to “Napoli”, he moved “A Folk’s Tale” from the Renaissance to the late 19th century and created a gay relationship between James and a male Madge in “La Sylphide”.
The remaining productions of Bournonville works have not been performed regularly since the third festival. Former RDB and NYCB star Ib Andersen created a very fine production of “The Kermes at Brügge”, which was only performed six times.
Throwing Bournonville Out with the Bathwater?
Nikolaj Hübbe has often been asked, whether he would produce a Bournonville Festival this season. He has claimed that there could be a festival. However, he has stated that it might not be totally dedicated to the great master.
When the season’s repertoire was published last year, there were indeed a planned festival with some Bournonville content. The only full night Bournonville ballet planned was Hübbe´s own production of “Napoli” and a compilation of snippets called “Bournonvilleana”.
The rest of the original festival programme includes Silja Schandorff and Nikolaj Hübbe production of “Swan Lake", a gala with international stars, a modern night and a revival of Kim Brandstrup’s brilliant creation “Shaken Mirror” for the RDB.
Unfortunately, Kim Brandstrup had to resign due to other commitments. It was then decided to present an evening of new Danish choreography including upcoming Danish Choreographer and company alumnae Oliver Marcus Starpov. This month, we learned that the Starpov ballet would first appear next season. It looks like from the reedited Festival program, that this evening is now reduced to an hour-long program of Aram Khan´s “Vertical Road”, now in its second season at RDB, and a free glass of Champagne.
There is also planned an evening with three new modern ballets (no details yet) and a production of the in-house company “Corpus” will be performed at the festival.
The latest news regarding the festival is a supplementary program focusing on local activities on Kongens Nytorv as well as other outreach events, as well as dining with the cast of “Swan Lake”.
As “Swan Lake” will be the key item on the festival, Nikolaj Hübbe has scheduled a longer run from February to June with multiple casts. Since its premiere in March 2015, the production have had a run every season. (In 2016 it was only the second act that was performed.) Every season presented a high number of casts. Probably, to give as many dancers as possible a shot of the covered ballet.
However, with six casts in play, it was necessary to split and reset the teams, so that the talent wear spread evenly. No audience would get a substandard production and no audience would get a 100% outstanding leading cast.
It looks like this strategy is still in use. Therefore, our young starring couple, Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kaas has never done “Swan Lake” together. This season she is paired with veteran Marcin Kupinsky and Andreas Kaas will be dancing with Caroline Baldwin and J´aime Crandall etc.
Principal Holly Dorger, who danced Odette-Odile in yesterday’s performance in on her third Siegfried, having previously danced with Principal Ulrik Birkkjær and soloist Sebastian Haynes. This season she is paired with Jonathan Chmelensky, who was made a principal following last night’s performance.
When I interviewed Silja Schandorff about “Swan Lake,” when the production was new, we discussed the different dancers take on Siegfried. Silja Schandorff told me that she and Nikolaj Hübbe had given the Siegfried´s a lot of room to develop their own character in the first act. While some of the dancers remained rather passive in the act, a few, including Principal Gregory Dean, managed to strengthen their character and make it more visible for the audience.
Last night Jonathan Chmelensky took the wrong bus in act one. He stayed at the back of the scene and remained rather anonymous, while his two costars soloists Jon Axel Fransson as von Rothbart and Andreas Kaas as Benno put their strong acting and dancing skills to full use. Even though Andreas Kaas was a bit sloppy in his solo, he remained a focus point and was communicating clearly to the audience.
Jon Axel Fransson was formidable in the role as Rothbart, a role choreographed on him. Surprisingly, he has not yet been cast as Siegfried, even though his classical dancing is outstanding. He remains the only RDB dancer, who can stand next to Alban Lendorf. I hope that Nikolaj Hübbe has not made his last appointment this season.
Holly Dorger and Jonathan Chmelensky have danced regularly together. In addition to their RDB assignments, they have also danced at several galas abroad. Both are strong technical dancers. Still they struggled getting the characters and the tragedy across to the audience. For Holly Dorger, it can sometimes looks like her strength counteracts the softer side of Odette.
The company was in good shape with 28 well-rehearsed swans. The four outstanding divertissements, choreographed by Oliver Marcus Starpov and Gregory Dean. The original cast danced most of the roles. However, there were great contributions by some of the dancers, who has joined RDB in the last years. Especially Marina Minoui was outstanding in the Hungarian divertissement.
Open the treasure box
Looking over the last seasons, the RDB has presented a long line of outstanding productions, “Giselle”, “La Bayadére “ and “Raymonda” as well as Christopher Wheeldon´s “Sleeping Beauty” and “Alice” . There is also a string of George Balanchine masterpieces like “The Nutcracker”, “Theme & Variations” and “Jewels”. Currently Liam Scarlett is creating a new ballet based on Pusjkin’s “Queen of Spades”.
There is also the great works of Neumeier, Ratmansky, Cranko and McMillan, which could be dusted off. Still, Nikolaj Hübbe has decided to keep all of these treasures in a box. It is also significant that Hübbe has omitted his own production of “La Sylphide” from the festival programme.
Strengthening the local interest in ballet is probably done better with showing the real gems. Luckily, they are still available.
Photos by Costin Radu
Copyright (c) Royal Danish Ballet
1. Mette Bødtcher as the Queen
2 Andrea Kaas and Ida Praetorius as Albrect and Giselle
3. Jan Axel Fransson and Alban Lendorf as von Rothbart and Siegfried
4. Holl Jean Dorger as Odette