Ballet de Luxe :
The Reel from "La Sylphide"
Pas de Deux from "Kermesse in Bruges"
Pas de Sept from "A Folk´s Tale"
May 5, 2018
Royal Danish Ballet
When Nikolaj Hübbe decided to break the pattern of a Bournonville Festival every 13th year and instead launched a sort of celebrating dance in general concept, I found it hard to get his point. Now after seeing the Bournonville outtakes last night, I understand him better. Instead, I am struggling with another issue. How come that the RDB almost seamless can integrate approximately 20 female foreign dancers, but fails miserable when trying the same concept with 11 new male dancers from abroad?
Nikolaj Hübbe loves creating new concepts. In addition to "The Hübbery" and "Dance2Go" we now also gets "Bobbles & Ballet” and a few more. Last year we got “Ballet de Luxe” which stands for a combination of Bournonville snippets and virtuoso ballets. This year “Ballet de Luxe”, is the stand in for the planned production of “Giselle”, now postponed to next season.
On paper, it looks like good value for money. In reality, it failed Bournonville miserably. Placed as the warm up for the two smash hits, Balanchine´s “Rubies” and Lander´s “Etudes”, it was not a good day for Bournonville. Eventhough the three outtakes: the reel from “La Sylphide”, the pas de deux from “The Kermes in Bruges” and the Pas de Sept from “A Folk´s Tale” all belongs in the group of Bournonville´s best choreography, neither benefits from being performed out of context and on a bare stage, and, as was the case of the Pas de Sept, by dancers with no experience of Bournonville.
The Reel stood its ground, led by new principal, Andreas Kaas and soloist Femke Mølbach Slot, who will retire by the end of the season. They know their Bournonville and lead the ensemble with flair and skill. However, The Reel is not choreographed to be performed on a bare stage. Instead, it needs the compression from the packed farmhouse hall to really function.
The Kermes pas de deux is choreographed to be performed on a more open space, so in a way it was easier for two dancer´s to fill the space than it was for the full reel ensemble. However, the charming Pas de Deux where the bold Carelis – you cannot really say this - seduces the timid Eleonora, danced by RDB´s leading lady, Ida Praetorius and soloist Alexander Bozinoff did not quite manage to make this Pas de Deux as heartrendering as expected.
In the recent “Queen of Spades” Alexander Bozinoff found his acting muscles in a very fine interpretation of the mad Hermann. However, he did not break his usual reserve in the Kermes´ Pas de Deux. Instead, Ida Praetorius took over the lead. Very fine dancing, but instead of bold Carelis and shy Eleonora, we got shy Carelis and bold Eleonora, which was not what Bournonville had ordered. Still, it remained the best of the three segments.
Trying and failing
Traditionally, the Pas de Sept is danced by stars and soloists. This time RDB took a gamble by giving the glorious solos and ensemble to three dancers, with less than two years RDB experience. Neither dancer have done significant Bournonville roles before. Trusting them with solos became a wakeup call.
Over the last seasons, some of our best male dancers have gone abroad, permanently or for a period. Some have cut their career short or following other options. Soloist Alexander Stæger, who is a strong Bournonville dancer, has joined the experimental in-house company Corpus. The strong dramatic dancer, Sebastian Kloborg left RDB to pursue a career in choreography. Moreover, as importantly, the company school has not – and will not deliver male dancers for a period of at least five years. Right now, there is one male student in apprentencies class. Hence, the growing intake of male dancers educated elsewhere.
Therefore, Meirambek Nazargozhayev, Samuel Zaldivar and Emerson Moose was trusted with the national heritance. Looking at the year gone by, the intake over the last two years have done well on corps duty. I have very fond memories of the elegant controlled male corps in “Raymonda”. However, the reality may well be that they have not been tested. And especially not tested in Bournonville. The last two seasons have economized on the Bournonville account. There have been precious little Bournonville on the repertoire. They sank. Spins, jumps, intricate passages, partnering etc did not reached the standard expectations. Emerson Moose, who did not have one of the big solos managed to show some of his Danseur Noble qualities. Their female partners were also struggling, even though they were all experienced Bournonville dancers.
It is easy to say, that they probably have had too few rehearsals. However, looking at the company and the present inability to attract, keep and develop male dancers, what we saw yesterday, may not just be a bad day in the office. It could be the new normal for Bournonville and the national repertoire.
The RDB has depended on foreign intake for at least 30 years. However, there is a difference between supplementing and total dependence. In last nights “Etudes”, Tobias Praetorius was the only one in the male corps who were educated at the RDB School. It was very much up to him, Alexander Bozinoff, and Julien Romain as the trio to keep the quality up.
The foreign intake over the years has given us stars and dancers, we would not be without. However, there could still be a silver lining. Look at the women ensemble. During Hübbe´s reign, the female corps has been supplemented with many foreign dancers. Some have even made it to principals. Most of them have a solid fan base, and more importantly, we have a god and stronger and more unified female corps de ballet than what we ever had. Somehow, somewhere in the building there is a knowledge on how to merge the difference in styles and habits. Please put these skills to work on the male lineup.
In the jeté segment of “Etudes”, it became clear that the foreign male intake was schooled differently, not just in relation to the Danish dancers, but also to each other. Hardly two men could mirror each other. However, if you can do it with the women, it should be possible for the men as well.
High Level Stars
Otherwise, there was still enjoyment to be had, mostly in the form of Jon-Axel Fransson, a young veteran of the production, shinning in the Mazurka and everywhere. His partner in crime was Andreas Kaas, who have had quite the week and being promoted to principal dancer. His performance showed how well he deserved it. He also took on the role of the prince in the romantic segment, which in recent productions have been danced by a cavalier, last by Principals Gregory Dean and Jonathan Chmelensky. The maneuver help to make the two leading dancers more equal and as the two leading men are great classical dancers and stylists, it was very enjoyable to watch.
Principal Holly Jean Dorger were in command of the ballerina role. Technically, she is very strong and secure. However she does seems less at home in the romantic context of the ballet.
The middle ballet, George Balanchine´s “Rubies” seems like the rest of the programme, somewhat underrehersed. “Rubies” was presented last season as part of the full “Jewels” programme and a great success. It is the same dancers now as then. However, the leading couples have changed partners.
So instead of dancing the pas de deux with Jon Axel Fransson, J´aime Crandall is now partnered by Jonathan Chmelensky. Fransson is scheduled to dance with Ida Praetorius in the other cast. Whether related to the change of partners or other reasons, J´aime Crandall did not quite reached her top performance. As she will also do the lead in “Etudes”, the two treats at the same time may be a little to rich. Jonathan Chmelensky is a considerate partner. Astrid Elbo an outstanding soloist. Still like “Etudes” and the “Pas de Sept”, it look like the corps would have benefitted from more practice.
So in all Nikolaj Hübbe served an impressive cake. However, the bottom might be a bit saggy and should have been a bit longer in the oven. The concept “Ballet de Luxe” gives the audience plenty of snippets, but I suppose I am not the only one who would be more content with another recipe.
Copyrights(c): Royal Danish Ballet
- Pas de Sept from " A Folks Tale" by Per Morten Abrahamsen
- Ida Praetorius as Eleonora in "The Kermes in Brügge" by Costin Radu
- Jon Axel Fransson (right in "Eudes" by Costin Radu
- Jonathan Chmelensky in "Rubies" by Costin Radu