writers on dancing


A Very Serious Matter

The Royal Danish Ballet
Det Kongelige Teater
Copenhagen, Denmark
March 24, 2006

by Eva Kistrup
copyright 2006 by Eva Kistrup

Whether to call Tim Rushton's full evening creation for the Royal Danish Ballet a success depends on the criteria you use to define "success." If you expect a new ballet that will redefine the company and have a long stay in the repertoire, "Requiem" is not a success. The subject matter (Death and Life), the choice of music (two Polish composers from the last century, Henryk Göbecki and Karol Setmanowski), the need for a full chorus and singers in itself will doom "Requiem" to a short run and a limited future. But more importantly although it is very well choreographed and brilliantly danced, it is not very exciting, and that has a lot to do with ballet's the quasi-religious banal philosophic framework. You cannot disagree that war and death should not happen to nice people. Especially nice people like the Royal Danish Ballet.

It does say a lot about the Danish ballet audience, when a lady at the interval, after having followed principal Gitte Lindstrøm suffering and lamenting through the first act, declared that she was very sweet in the part. And yes, the Danish audience could need an awakening call almost as much as they need good ballets. In all fairness Gitte Lindstrøm was not sweet in the part. She bought all her skills in expressing a tormented soul to the part and gave a stellar performance. But in interviews and press materials, Tim Rushton has stated that he did not want this piece to be dominated by solo performances, that he wanted "Requiem" to be a totally collective effort. If that was his wish, then "Requiem" can not be called a success, because from the time the curtain went up Gitte Lindstrøm, and to even a higher degree Mads Blangstrup, dominated the piece. Rushton had given them more to work with than the other 32 dancers, but it was not as much by their dancing but their ability to ooze drama and charisma that actually made the piece much more interesting and nuanced than properly planned. It was also a strange experience. It was like seeing the soul of the company, the uniqeness that characterizes the company and its key performers doing battle with this attempt to redefine not only company style but also the format of full evening ballets and win.

There are few dancers in the Royal Danish Ballet, and indeed any ballet company, who can command attention on stage like Mads Blangstrup. In a collective piece with a mass of dancers wearing identical and odd costumes, on a dark stage, he continues to stand out. His forte has never been in modern ballet. His style, poise and plastique seem closer to the style of the 1950s than the contemporary style. Yet I left with the feeling that without his presence there would have been nothing remarkable about the ballet.

As mentioned before, the subject matter is not unknown, and actually, over the last decade, the Royal Danish Ballet has performed at least ten ballets targeting the subject with Flemming Flindt's "Triumph of Death" as the most well known and John Neumeier's "Knaben Wunderhorn" as one of the best. Frank Andersen communicated very clearly that he had given Rushton a totally free hand and as positive an action as that is, the result shows that it might not have been the wisest decision. One could not help but feel that Rushton made the ballet he wanted to make, rather than trying to make a work suited to the company.

Rushton joined the Royal Danish Ballet as dancer in the late 80s and left in 1992 to pursue a career as choreographer, a career that started in The Royal Danish Ballet's workshops. He has made several ballets for the RDB and today is the director of the largest independent modern dance group outside the RDB in Copenhagen. He is creating a staggering amount of ballets, and he should consider reducing the quantity to gain more quality in each piece; he is in danger of spreading his creativity too thinly. "Requiem" is an example of creating a full evening ballet without having a coherent frame or choreographic idea to tie the piece together.

So yes it has volume, it has a abundance of steps, it has skilled dancers and a great decor, but it still lacks an argument for its existence, unless two brilliant soloists performing better than intended and creating their own level is argument enough. But I must admit I had hoped for more.

Photos, all by Henrik Steinberg:
First: Martin Stauning, Mads Blankstrup, Louise Midjord.
Second: Mads Blankstrup and Izabela Sokolows.
Third: Gitte Lindstrom.

Volume 4, No. 12
March 27, 2006

copyright ©2006 Eva Kistrup


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last updated on March 27, 2006