Ballet de Luxe:
The Reel from "La Sylphide"
Pas de Deux from "Kermesse in Bruges"
Pas de Sept from "A Folk´s Tale"
May 12, 2018
Royal Danish Ballet
Seeing the second cast of “Ballet de Luxe” finally delivered a top luxury experience. The first pairing of Ida Praetorius and Jon Axel Fransson as the lead couple of George Balanchine´s ”Rubies” showed quality of the highest level. They delivered everything you could wish. On top of the pyrotechnics, there was humor, high energy and most importantly a partnership. It was the best and strongest partnership seen so far in the production.
When premiered last seasons as part of the full “Jewels” production. Ida Praetorius was paired with Jonathan Chmelensky and Jon Axel Fransson with J´aime Crandall. The pairings was changed to accommodate the casting of “Etudes”, where J´aime Crandall, Jon Axel Fransson and Jonathan Chmelensky also are involved.
It is a very valid question why Ida Praetorius, the company’s best female ballerina has not yet been cast as the female lead in “Etudes”. Based on his outstanding performances in not only “Jewels” and “Etudes”, it is likewise valid to ask, why Jon Axel Fransson has not yet been promoted to principal dancer. Praetorius and Fransson are both nominated as best dancers for the upcoming Reumert awards. Both for the second time. Please, do also award them with the family jewels.
“Etudes” under pressure
As Marcin Kupinski had to bow out on this night´s performance of “Etudes”, Andreas Kaas was brought in to fill the gap, and once again show how much he has developed as a classical dancer.
I do not know, how it was originally planned the solos should be shared between Marcin Kupinski and Jonathan Chmelensky in the intended cast. As is turned out Jonathan Chmelensky danced both the romantic cavalier and the difficult showstopper, the Mazurka. That was stretching his skills too far.
In earlier generations, I remember only leading principal, Arne Villumsen doing both segments. As a born romantic lead, a strong jumper and with tons of stage appeal, he could get away with it. The operating modus for Jonathan Chmelensky is will. His strong work commitments has helped him to develop and conquer roles, beyond what could be expected. However, “Etudes”, demands more than will. Even though he had 75% of the stage time, Andreas Kaas´ stylish and controlled dance won the match.
When J´aime Crandall presented her first “Etudes” ballerina, it was more than a fresh breath of air. It was a daring and modern approach, based on her own skillsets. It was outstanding, and definitely a factor in her becoming a leading ballerina. That production was co-directed by Nikolaj Hübbe and Thomas Lund. Since then Thomas Lund, together with Harald Lander´s widow Lise Lander has produced several productions of “Etudes” abroad and in Copenhagen.
Looking at the RDB productions of “Etudes” over the last decades, each production have been dedicated to present a cleaner stage than the previous one. However, this attempt to make “Etudes” more Balanchine like, have now reach a point where it hurts some of the central elements. The segment celebrating the Romantic ballet are now totally free of any décor elements. You may not even get the nod to old time classics like the mirror dance in “La Ventana” because nothing gives the smallest hint of a mirror. Instead of making the choreographers intentions clear, they rob him for meaning. It also looks like J’aime Crandall are forced from her original take on the role and is now following standard.
Little Room for Bournonville
“Ballet de Luxe” save “Rubies” looks like an attempt to get the entire duty repertoire done in one production. The last season as well as next season is very low on Bournonville. Showing segments of “La Sylphide”, “A Folk´s Tale” and the “Kermes of Bruges”, the two first from Nikolaj Hübbe own attempts of trying to turn Bournonville into something else, is simply not doing the job.
Three former RDB stars have received international praise for their Bournonville productions: Lloyd Riggins for his Hamburg production of “Napoli”, Ulrik Birkkjær (now San Francisco) for his Bournonville tour and Ib Andersen for his productions of “Napoli” in Arizona and “Kermes in Bruges “in Copenhagen. It shows it can be done.
Following the not so successful performance of “Pas de Sept” of the first performance of “Ballet de Luxe”, casting changes have been made, and Tobias Praetorius is now taking on the first male variation, saving an important Bournonville part. He is also on stage in three more ballets on the program. Save Jon Axel Fransson and Andreas Kaas, he remains the only RDB educated male dancer in the program.
Luckily he shares the Pas de Sept with Liam Redhead (second solo) and James Clark. The two Canadian educated dancers have been in RDB for four seasons and have found their Bournonville skills. Redhead showed a very fine solo.
The ensemble of four ladies was done by three principal dancers - and Astrid Elbo. The later outperforming the rest even though she after a relative new praxis is left with only one of the two variations for lead girl. Astrid Elbo has recently received the Queen Ingrid Honorary Award. This performance and her take on the soloist in “Rubies”, should lead to a very well deserved promotion.
Italians Silvia Selvini, who has been in the company for a few seasons and newcomer Mattia Santini, danced the “Kermes” pas de deux.
Classic Italian style is not known for the jumps. The Bournonville repertoire depends on jumps. So, no easy homerun. Selvini has plenty of charm to at least get through. Santini was overpowered by the challenge.
This is not way to develop dancers. Nor it is the way to preserve Bournonville. There is no short cuts. It is not enough to throw a casual “Kermes Pas de Deux”. What is needed is a good production of “Kermes in Bruges”. Luckily, there is one on store. Ib Andersen´s production got only six performance with a new beautiful design. It has certainly not suffered from overexposure.
Photos (Copyright(c) Royal Danish Ballet
1 Jon Axel Fransson & Jáime Crandall in "Rubies" by Costin Radu
2. Ida Praetorius & Jonathan Chemlensky in "Rubies" by Costin Radu
3. J´aime Crandall in "Etudes" by Costin Radu
4. Louise Østergaard & Jon Axel Fransson in "Kermes in Bruges" by Costin Radu