writers on dancing


The Naked Bournonville

“A celebration of August Bournonville”
Principals and soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London
June 21 – 25 2005

by Eva Kistrup
copyright ©2005 by Eva Kistrup

It is not uncommon for group of Royal Danish Ballet dancers to tour Bournonville during their summer vacation. What is uncommon is the scope and quality of the present tour, under the artistic direction of Thomas Lund and produced by Alexander Meinertz, who has also produced several tours for dancers from RDB, NYCB and others.  The tour include a live orchestra under the baton of Peter Ernst Lassen (who conducted the full Bournonville Music CD recently published), the fine Sadlers Well stage, 19 dancers picked from the top and selected younger talents and most importantly some of Bournonville's finest choreographies.

There's a question, however, of whether to present Bournonville without the full trimmings. On the other hand, presenting the works out of their dramatic context allows the audience to focus on Bournonville's choreography, and he can really deliver. This time around the group included small character pieces that help convey the feel of the ballet. I would have liked the group to go out on a limb and include less well known pieces, but what they do deliver is top notch.

The group consists of so many talented dancers that it is impossible to show all fairly in one programme. Luckily there were two casts from Friday. What you get in the first cast is a master class on how to dance Bournonville, especially shown by Silja Schandorff and Mads Blangstrup in a segment from "La Sylphide," and by Thomas Lund and Caroline Cavallo in "The Flower Festival in Genzano."

Schandorff and Blangstrup conveys how Bournonville combines drama and dance, and they convey it using all their gifts. If you only looked at their hands, you would get the full story. Acting, dancing, lines, musicality and phrasing—all is put to use to communicate the message of the man and the spirit coming together.

Likewise Thomas Lund and Caroline Cavallo showed embroidery on a very high level. Each step is carefully tested and presented to maximum impact without breaking style. The pas de deux is not a stiff affair but infused with warmth and humanity.

In "La Ventana" pas de trois it was possible to enjoy the dancing of the two strong soloists, Tina Højlund and Diana Cuni, who are among the company's finest dancers, and fine Bournonville dancers in particular. What sets them apart is their ability to get the steps moving and work three dimensionally. They were partnered by the newest import, Tim Matiakis, who joined the company this season. He looks like a Bournonville demi-character dancer, at least as defined by Frank Andersen (artistic director of the RDB). Matiakis is a great spinner and has an actor's face, but there are vital elements missing before he can be a real Bournonville dancer, most notable his arms, which is like a mechanical doll's, screwed on at the shoulders and not growing organically from the deep back. This was very noticeable in "La Conservatoire," when he was standing next to the excellent Bournonville dancer, Nicolai Hansen. Unfortunately the artistic management of RDB, and indeed this independent tour, obviously does not find this a serious issue, and Matiakis is eating up Bournonville roles before he has even a minimum command of the style. Matiakis is a useful type of dancer, and he can perform a solo in "Etudes," which may elude the likes of Thomas Lund, but it scares me that the company cannot tell the difference between real and bogus Bournonville style. But Matiakis is new to the company and may still develop.

That becoming a Bournonville dancer can be a long term project is proved by Jean Lucien Massot, who joined the company 14 years ago and is still struggling to capture the style. He has a dramatic, masculine stage persona, not unlike former company stalwart Johnny Eliasen, though on a much stronger technical platform. He does some roles very well. He is a great Alvar in "Far from Denmark," but as the Ballet Master in "La Conservatoire," he is miscast, as he cannot produce the line, authority, musicality and command of the style that is paramount. The role of the Ballet Master is the starring role of the piece, and you must feel the dancer's leadership. Without that authority the pieces falters and despite good work from Gudrun Bojesen and Gitte Lindstrøm fails to be the best and finest argument for Bournonville's pure dancing style. With Mads Blangstrup as the second cast most of the balance was restored. Blangstrup is not the strongest technician in the RDB but he is perhaps the purest stylist and the most elegant dancer.

There were so many dancers on this tour that it was impossible to present them all. I would have like to see Morten Eggert and Nicolai Hansen in more than a Napoli solo and the funny Jockey Dance, which they did very well.

Of course the evening finished with Napoli act 3, and rounds of applause. The tour has given British audiences an opportunity to see Bournonville danced on a high level and hopefully an appetite for more. Luckily we are not far away.

Volume 3, No. 26
July 4, 2005

copyright ©2005 Eva Kistrup



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last updated on July 4, 2005