”The Art of Silence”
April 24, 2018
Is Bournonville still alive? This is a question; one has come very near to asking during the last seasons, where Bournonville has been a rare visitor.
Nikolaj Hübbe’s own Bournonville productions is known for their dare, the time travelling and the change from a Christian base to an agnostic environment. In addition to his own productions, Gudrun Bojesen, Anne Marie Vessel and most impressively Ib Andersen has directed new versions of “La Ventana”, “The Conservatory” and “The Kermes in Bruges”. Neither of these productions has had a long run.
Still the Bournonville affinardos expected a Bournonville festival this year, following the three hosted previously in 1979, 1992 and 2005
There will be a festival in early June. However, Bournonville will not take the leading role. Save a performance of Hübbe’s updated version of “Napoli” set in a Fellini inspired setting and an evening of Pas de Deux´s and small ensemble work, Bournonville will be absent. There is no new productions not even a performance of his most important work “La Sylphide”.
Making the case for Bournonville
Luckily, other forces and other artists are fighting to keep Bournonville alive and kicking.
Photographer and filmmaker, Signe Roderik followed a group of dancers at the Royal Ballet in 2015 when they performed a Bournonville programme at the The Joyce Theater in New York.
The great enthusiasm from the American audience gave her the idea of creating a film on Bournonville. The movie also includes inputs from reviewers Deborah Jovitt, The Village Voice, Alistair Macauley, The New York Times and Dane Erik Aschengreen, former reviewer at Berlingske Tidende and author of several books on ‘Bournonville and the Royal Danish ballet.
Somehow, the movie project ended up as two films. The first “Bournonville Today” focus on the current generation of dancers and Bournonville´s choreography. It includes three different Bournonville work, and each segment makes a very strong point for the quality and relevance for Bournonville then, now and in the future.
The Strengths of Youth
First out is RDB’s young stars, Ida Praetorius & Andreas Kaas in “The Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux”, bringing all their youth and charm, as well as strong dancing skills. It appeared as charming and fresh as when Mette-Ida Kirk and Ib Andersen brought “The Kermis in Bruges” to live at the 1979 Bournonville Festival.
The athletic and masculine fight by Marcin Kupinski and Sebastian Haynes in the “Jockey Dance” followed. It looked as fresh as it could have been choreographed this month.
Finally, Sorella Englund and Ulrik Birkkjær performed the central confrontation of Madge and James from “La Sylphide” in practically normal clothes and no stage make up. It was mind blowing. It could have been a scene from an Ingmar Bergman movie.
In all, the three segments, supported by the reviewer´s comments makes the case for Bournonville.
He is as fresh, as talented and as indispensable as he has ever been.
An Unsure Future
The second film “The Art of Silence” focuses of the mime tradition in Bournonville and in the RDB repertoire. Celebrated mime artists Lis Jeppesen, Poul-Erik Hesselkilde and Morten Eggert displays some Bournonville and some mimes from other sources. The most outstanding performance comes from Lis Jeppesen, doing Viderik from “A Folks Tale” on her bare face.The mime artists are even closer to extinction than the Bournonville tradition. Cost cuttings last year changed the mime artists employ from permanent employment to free lance status.
We can already see what this will lead to. In the Christmas run of the Balanchine “Nutcracker”, younger dancers with little dramatic skills now performed several mime roles without having the necessary skills.
There is little time to save the tradition. Lis Jeppesen has retired, Poul-Erik Hesselkilde is very close to the national retirement age and Morten Eggert is close to reaching 40, the retirement age for ballet dancers.
Still, there is more need for them than ever. At present, there are more foreign dancers in the RDB than Danish dancers, and they need to learn the art of being dramatic dancers.
In the recent hit, Liam Scarlett’s “Queen of Spades” two of the new intake of male dancers are cast in the two supporting role as officer Tomskij and captain Narumov. They are struggling. The one dancing Narumov cannot present himself as the leader of the group. They need to work with the mime artists on how to form and present a character.
On one end, the RDB is struggling with budgets cut downs. On the other end, they produces performances with outstanding décor and luxury costumes. This season alone has included lavish productions of “Raymonda” and “Queen of Spades”. There are at least 15 additional productions with high production values in the magazines. Most of these productions needs the skills of the mime artists and the dramatic dancers.
It is not only the Bournonville heritage future there is at the stake. Why make RDB into a generic company that can do exactly the same as other companies?
Signe Roderik’s two films shows with every clarity that RDB is a unique company and a provider of world heritage. This is where the gold are. However, it cannot live in the storerooms. Nor can it survive without passing on the dramatic heritage and Bournonville. It deserved to be cherished, and frankly, ballets like “Queen of Spades” would not have be as brilliant as it is without the dramatic in-house tradition. It must be kept alive and it need to be addressed now.
Otherwise, we will lose the gold.
Photo Copyrights (c):
- Marcin Kupinski & Sebastian Haynes in "Jockey Dance"
- Ida Praetorius & Andreas Kaas in "The Flower Festival"