writers on dancing


Letter from Copenhagen
The Third Bournonville Festival

Third night :
“La Ventana," "La Sylphide”

by Eva Kistrup
copyright ©2005 by Eva Kistrup

Frank Andersen’s appointed Bournonville team—Anne Marie Vessel, Dinna Bjørn, Eva Kloborg, Flemming Ryberg, Thomas Lund and himself—share a great love for Bournonville, the ability to work hard and diligently and to communicate and explain Bournonville to different target groups. The success of this festival is very much to their credit. The team behind the first Bournonville Festival—Kirsten Ralov, Hans Brenaa and Henning Kronstam—was an unbeaten combination. Ralov knew all the steps, Brenaa could make the performance live, and Henning Kronstam could interpret all elements in each role and reach the emotional depths in the material. Is it especially the skills of Brenaa and Kronstam that are the missing ingredients in the current line-up. Luckily Nicolaj Hübbe in his production of "La Sylphide" shows that he is the one capable of assuring that the lineage is not broken and that theatricality and emotional depth still can be reached.

Hübbe has discarded all ideas about presenting a modern or even personal version of "La Sylphide". His version is, save for one minor detail, the Brenaa and Kronstam version of the late 1970s. His coup is the work he has done with the dancers, helping each one to find a personal interpretation of his or her role and, of equal importance, he has rejuvenated the dancing.

Bournonville's "La Sylphide", the copy that survived the original French Romantic ballet about the young man who leaves his mortal fiancée to dance with his dreams in the forest, is to the Danish ballet scene what "Hamlet" is to Royal Shakespeare Company. The leading roles can be interpreted in hundred different ways, and each interpretation as valid as the other. In recent years we have seen, James the poet (Flemming Ryberg); James the proud man, bought down by passion and revenge (Arne Villumsen); the innocent farmer boy (Lloyd Riggins) etc. And for the Sylph, the possible range is equally broad, The Innocent Waif (Lis Jeppesen), The Ice Queen (Mette Hønningen); The Fairy (Mette-Ida Kirk), The sweet girl, (Rose Gad), The Femme Fatale (Silja Schandorff), the Creature in Love (Christina Olsson). Each James and Sylph will find their own interpretation. The drama can be intensified by how you mix the Jameses and the sylphs. You can have anything from two soft interpretations together to two strong wills against each other. In my experience the soft/hard or hard/hard combination gives the most effective and dramatic performances. Both Gudrun Bojesen as the Sylph and Thomas Lund as James are relying on the softer approach. It is a sweet girly Sylph paired with a quiet burdened James, who is almost brought to the forest against his will and who nearly asks Effy to save him before he is reluctantly drawn away. The strength of this couple is very much in their dancing especially in the second act divertissement. Bojesen and Lund are such experienced Bournonville dancers that they can handle any phase and each movement is carefully presented. I saw a stage rehearsal when Hübbe was working on the piece with Bojesen and Lund, and he taught them how to use light and shadow in their dancing and through them to syncopate their movement in the first act walk downstage. The result is never a dull moment, never a phase underused, and no monotony in the dancing. Lund's ability to jump and present jump sequences were especially fine tonight and everything was landed precisely. He could not have wished for a finer performance.

"La Sylphide" used the same décor from 1965 through 2004 and a new decor and costumes were needed. Scenographer Michael Melbye, who had earlier done the decorations for "La Sylphide" in Stockholm and China with Frank Andersen’s productions was asked to provide a new set and costumes and presented a prettified version of the existing décor. He had kept the Girl Scout uniforms for the farm girls in the first act but has omitted the unflattering knee length stockings; the farm hall has become more genteel. Unfortunately he has changed the colour of James' costume to green and has put the corps in striking red and yellows which, together with bagpipe players, who look like they have escaped from the Edinburgh tattoo, makes Thomas Lund's James disappear when he is not front stage. The alternative James, Mads Blangstrup, who will perform the part later this week, is saved from this by being tall and striking. Melbye's costumes for the Sylph look too much like ball gowns, with their corsage effects, and his forest is too coarse in colour and foliage. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise fine production. Tina Højlund as Effy and Lis Jeppesen as Madge rounded up a very fine team performance.

For the second time in three days "La Ventana" was presented as the opening ballet, this time with new soloist Izabela Sokolowska as the Senorita and Mads Blangstrup as the Senor. She is stepping in for Silja Schandorff and as a replacement did ok. There's little in the ballet that uses Blangstrup's strong dramatic skills and, as he is not the greatest virtuoso dancer in the company, he struggled slightly with the difficult variation but somehow he always finds the adequate technique when he needs it. But his posture, musicality and dramatic accents almost saved his performance. Andrew Bowman, Femke M. Slot and Diana Cuni were this night's cast for the pas de trois. "La Ventana" could really have used a few more performances before the festival. It is a difficult ballet and would have benefited from more run throughs.

All in all a satisfactory evening that proved that the right director is available and that the lineage has been restored.

Read Fourth night: “Abdallah”

Photos, all by Martin Mydtskov Rönne:
First:  Gudrun Bojesen as the Sylph and Thomas Lund as James.
Second:  Thomas Lund, with the corps de ballet of sylphides.
Third:  Lis Jeppesen as Madge, Thomas Lund as James and (here, though not in the performance) Diana Cuni as Effy.

Volume 3, No. 21
June 6, 2005

copyright ©2005 Eva Kistrup



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last updated on May 30, 2005