Silja Schandorff & Nikolaj Hübbe:
April 7, 2018
The Opera Stage
Last night´s performance of Silja Schandorff and Nikolaj Hübbe´s “Swan Lake” is in its third run since the premiere three years ago. Save “The Nutcracker” and other Christmas runs, this is an unusual high number for any ballet produced under Nikolaj Hübbe’s reign. Schandorff and Hübbe´s production is rich both in presentation values and in number of roles and number of casts. When Wilma Giglio take on Odette/Odile in May, no less than eight ballerinas will have had a go of the leading role. Multiple casts have also danced the supporting roles.
The corps of swans remains outstanding and coherent in spite of many newcomers. The divertissements, especially Oliver Starpov’s Russian dance and Gregory Dean’s Hungarian quintet never fails to impress. Last night´s performance was graced by Principal Susanne Grinder as the leading Hungarian lady. Susanne Grinder has previously danced Odette/Odile, not only in this production but also in the Peter Martins version, created on RDB. Over the last seasons, Grinder´s repertoire has become significantly smaller even though she has retained her key qualities as a romantic and dramatic ballerina.
In general, Nikolaj Hübbe seems very keen on using his mature ballerinas. Famously he appointed Kizzy Matiakis as principal dancer at 35. She also shared the lead in “Raymonda” with senior ballerinas Amy Watson and J´aime Crandall. However, the fabulous Susanne Grinder seems to be put on the shelf.
On the male side, Principal Marcin Kupinski, who has been Susanne Grinder’s primary partner, seems also to loose status. However, as this performance as Siegfried showed he is fighting and winning. He presented one of his best Siegfried ever opposite Principal Ida Praetorius.
There is a significant age gap between Marcin Kupinski and Ida Praetorius. I suppose the reason for pairing them as often as has been done, is due to their similar proportions. Seeing their long legs move in symmetry is an aesthetic pleasure.
However, the age gap and the fact that Ida Praetorius also is part of a very successful partnership with her class mate Soloist Andreas Kaas, will probably end the Praetorius/Kupinski partnership sooner rather than later.
When Ida Praetorius danced her first Balanchine Sugar Plum fairy last Christmas, it was very clear that she had taken the step from most talented dancer to the companies leading ballerina. Last evening’s performance confirmed that an even higher level have been reached. It was a truly outstanding performance.
Nikolaj Hübbe discovered Ida Praetorius´ talent early and she has danced an impressive numbers of leading roles. However, there is also a significant number of ballets in the repertoire, she has deserved to dance, which have been cast by lesser talent or dancers, whose forces lay elsewhere. Although these ballets has been performed in recent years, she still had been looked over for roles like Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty”, "La Sylphide", Hilda in "A Folk’s Tale", Manon, Nikiya in “La Bayadére”, The Ballerina in “Etudes” and the title role in “Raymonda”. etc.
I fully understand the dilemma that Nikolaj Hübbe faces daily. Due to economic cut downs, there are significally fewer performances than 10 years ago. As everything is measured by numbers of sold tickets, repeating a production in the next season is not possible as the big number of subscribers is guaranteed not getting the same production twice in three years.
I also understand that Nikolaj Hübbe has responsibilities towards the other leading dancers. At present Susanne Grinder and Ida Praetorius is the only female Principals educated at the RDB School. Very few of the foreign educated ballerinas has a real grip of Bournonville and is struggling with the dramatic side and with the more modern choreography. It may lead to the decision of casting them in the classical and neoclassical roles where they are comfortable. It just seems strange to do it on the expense of the company´s best dancer and audience drawing card.
When Success becomes Couteractive
Sometimes it can also look like that being outstanding in a specific role, may cost you other roles. The role of the scheming von Rothbart in Schandorff & Hübbe´s “Swan Lake” was created on Soloist Jon Axel Fransson and a major hit. Fransson was even nominated as best dancer at the Danish Reumert Awards. Unfortunately, Jon Axel Fransson has been so successful in the role that it has hindered him in getting the other fat roles in the production. Jonathan Chmelensky has moved from Benno and von Rothbart to Siegfried and even got the promotion to principal in front of the probably even more talented younger stars, Andreas Kaas and Jon Axel Fransson.
Denmark is known for its strong egalitarian culture. However, it sometimes seems like the greatest talents are looked over regarding roles and promotions.
Looking at this production of “Swan Lake” one can easily conclude the production can have a very long life on the Copenhagen stage and not only benefit from the participation of the companies best dancers, but also developing them to an even higher level, as well as create opportunities for the upcoming dancers. One can see a Marcin Kupinski lengthen his career, Ida Praetorius developing not only her impressive techniques but also gaining more maturity, and the new intake of foreign talent to counteract the dwindling numbers of Danish boys from the RDB School, learning to move as a team in the Russian divertissements. This is the longevity; the company needs to continue the development of stars and ensemble.
Photos by Costin Radu Copyright(c) Royal Danish Ballet
- Marcin Kupinski & Ida Praetorius
- Susanne Grinder
- Jon Axel Fransson with Alban Lendorf in 2015