writers on dancing


Letter from Copenhagen
The Third Bournonville Festival

Fifth night :
"Far from Denmark" and "Le Conservatoire or A Marriage Proposal by Advertisement"

by Eva Kistrup
copyright ©2005 by Eva Kistrup

There are people who hate "Far from Denmark" and see it as a dated, politically incorrect, racial, chauvinistic ballet with little dancing and too much mime. And then there are people who adore the ballet, enjoy the drama and laugh at the 1860 interpretation of the foreign countries and dances. I must admit that I am of the latter group, especially when it is performed as well as it was tonight. One of my friends pointed out that this is practically the first ballet in the festival to be performed by its first cast and the performance demonstrated that the quality of any ballet will rise depending on the quality of the dancing and acting.

"Far from Denmark" is a well-known story within the Bournonville universe. Our hero gets tempted by an exotic lady. So tempted that he almost forgets his fiancée back home—doesn’t that sound familiar? But it is a much lighter story than that of "La Sylphide," set in the frame of a Danish naval visit to Argentina, where our hero Wilhelm, the young lieutenant, is infatuated with the exotic Rosita, much to the dismay of her local suitor Don Alvar and Wilhelm's two cadet friends, played since 1860 by two women pretending to be young boys.

Mads Blangstrup and Marie Pierre Greve have over these last seasons established themselves as an almost unbeaten pairing in romantic ballet. They were great in Ratmansky's "Anna Karanina" and Robbins' "In the Night." As Wilhelm, Blangstrup uses his dramatic skill and his ability to perform ambiguity. It is not an easy part. The fiancée is never shown, there is little dancing. Yet he managed to convey his character by his ability to use his body to express his feeling and turmoil. Rosita is often performed as a scheming stupid girl, but Greve managed to give her depth and convey the image of a girl totally in love and therefore sad and disappointed when Wilhelm finally acknowledges his betrothed state. Surrounding the couple we can enjoy the spectacle of a party at sea and some fine cameos, especially the good dancing of Diana Cuni as Poul, the young boy at sea, and Jean-Lucien Massot as Don Alvar, tight as a wire of jealousy. This is what Bournonville is all about. You can find a strong human story in almost all his ballets, and it can be bought out by good direction (Anne Holm-Jensen, Frank Andersen and Flemming Ryberg).

Unfortunately "Le Conservatoire or A Marriage Proposal by Advertisement" does not fall into the same category. During Harald Lander's reign, he shortened the ballet to the brilliant dancing class, which remains a highlight of Bournonville style, but in 1995 the full ballet was reconstructed by Niels Bjørn Larsen, Kirsten Ralov and Dinna Bjørn. The story combines central elements from Bournonville's own youth in Paris and the Price children, who like the little girl Fanny in the ballet, came from a lower background of jugglers and pantomime performers to become ballet dancers.

Bournonville made this ballet in the vaudeville style so popular in his contemporary theatre. In Denmark vaudeville is very light comedy with romantic touches. The most well-known were written under the directorship of Johan Ludvig Heiberg (a man who found Shakespeare too vulgar). But even though the style was a popular format, the story about the ballet dancers teasing an old fool, trying to marry beauty and money by placing an ad in a Paris paper, is too light to carry, and Bournonville has not managed to define a French style of folk dancing, which makes the second act long suffering. Save for Gitte Lindstrøm as Victorine, this performance was done by the second casts, depriving Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund of the chance to infuse the ballet with their qualities. Jean-Lucien Massot as Alexis the ballet master lacks elegance to shine, and as far as the farce goes it is not really funny to se him as a dame in a large frock and bonnet, because everyone else is wearing the same outfit. Designer David Walker has gone more Biedermeyer than Biedermeyer and it looks like the dancers could do a pirouette inside the costumes. The dancing school is set in a dark heavily ornamented décor, which counteracts Bournonville's impression of the classic French school as light and fresh.

"Le Conservatoire" was played as the last ballet (normally the order is the reverse) to celebrate Poul-Erik Hesselkilde's 40th jubilee. His character DuFour is probably his best role—a vain inspector with a too high opinion of his chances on the marriage market.

It was an erstwhile decision to recreate the ballet, and I have every confidence that Ralov (Herself the last Fanny) and Niels Bjørn Larsen has recreated the ballet correctly. It does not, however, carry much weight besides the lovely dancing school.

Read Sixth night: "King's Volunteers on Amager" and "La Sylphide"

Photos, all by Martin Mydtskov Rönne:
First:  Ellizabeth Dam and Gabor Baouroch in "Far From Denmark" (a scene that, in prior productions, has been danced in blackface.)
Second:  Mads Blankstrup and Marie-Pierre Greve in "Far From Denmark."
Third:  Kirsten Simone in "Konservatoriet."

Volume 3, No. 21
June 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 Eva Kistrup



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last updated on June 8, 2005