Ballet & Bobbles:
Akram Khan: Vertical Road
Readings with Karen Lise Mynster
Music with Emma Steele & Angelika Wagner
The Drama House
May 15, 2018
For the last seasons, it has become a tradition that Royal Danish Ballet finishes the season with a production at the Drama House, the newest part of the Royal Theatre. However, there is one serious complain. The drama house is not build for neither traditional ballet nor modern. The stage is too small and there is no orchestra pit. That limits what RDB can present and over the last years Nikolaj Hübbe has decided to present a new original production. However, in return these productions have been too small for the Old Stage or Opera House. If leave him with the dilemma. If created for the Drama House it will have to stay in the Drama House. He cannot capitalize on a hit.
Two years ago, the miracle happened. Kim Brandstrup´s ballet “Shaken Mirror” became the production that not only rocked the Drama House. The strong design and clever use of lightning design created what Brandstrup has aimed for his entire career to make ballet be a movie as well. Off course, Nikolaj Hübbe wanted a second round. It was scheduled for the end of the 2017/18 season. However, the production was cancelled probably due to Brandstrup’s other commitments.
How could Nikolaj Hübbe solve the situation? The season was planned. The budget spent. Somehow, somewhere a plan presented itself. Akram Khan´s “Vertical Road” had been a great success last season and was scheduled as part of this season’s Dance2Go program, a budget production aimed at attracting new ballet goers with a competitive price. “Vertical Road” is a strong ballet. However, it is also a relatively short ballet. However, instead of pairing with another ballet in repertoire, somewhere, somehow came up with a new idea, named "Ballet & Bobbles”. In addition to the brilliant, but short ballet, the audience would be invited to a matinee, served a glass of champagne, get a reading from a leading actress and some music. Bingo “Ballet & Bobbles”. They obviously had so much faith in the project, that it has also been included in next year’s programme.
Does it work? Not very well. There is no symbioses between the three different performances. It could have been any mix. The expected glass of champagne became a Kirr in a plastic cup. The only item really delivering was “Vertical Road”, and that lost some notches, primarily due to the smaller stage. Nor could McLean Hooper in the lead role dominate the stage like the first interpretation by Sebastian Haynes. We were also too close. Seeing “Vertical Road” on the Old Stage, you see and feel an ensemble. At the Drama House, you see the individual dancers instead of the group, thereby missing a vital element.
Never Prolong a Failure
The decision to include “Ballet & Bobbles” in the upcoming repertoire is adding yet another programme to attract a new audience. We do not need another. We allready have "The Hübbery”, “Dance2Go”, “PopUps”, “Brunch & Ballet”, Open rehearsals etc.
I wrote the following a few years ago, when it was decided to cut segments out of José Limon´s “The Unsung”:
“There has been a few comment on the internet about "The Unsung" being too long and boring. There are also passages in works like "Swan Lake" that deserves the same accolade, without anyone demanding a cut. I think that the decision to cut is wrong, not only in reverence to the choreographer and dancers, but if part of the audience's response to ballet is that they want less rather than more, maybe this is not the segment the management should try hardest to please. Earlier this season "Sleeping Beauty" was cut to make it more family oriented. Can we we please drop the dogma that given less quality will appeal to more audience?
It is legitimate to want more bums in seats, but not any bum at any cost. Dance2Go is an outstretched hand to ballet debutantes to get a taster. It must also be accepted that some people cannot be won over. Instead of lowering the barre simply accept the fact and keep the content and quality high. With approx. 20 performances less annually following the cuts, there will be more than 15000 seats less to fill. Use that silver lining instead of self-bullying into lower standards.”
I have great sympathy for Nikolaj Hübbe. Being the Artistic Director for RDB is definitely not an easy task, and it has certainly not been made easier over the last seasons and following ongoing cuts. When Hübbe succeed, it is when he insists on challenging his company with the best ballets and choreographers available.
With “Ballet & Bobbles”, he compromises his own high standards. It sounds like a trick in an old comedy movie. Even a strong ballet like “Vertical Road” cannot save the day. Please let it be the last time alcohol are deemed an equal partner to ballet.
Photos from "Vertical Road" by Costin Radu (Copyright(c): Royal Danish Ballet