Royal Danish Ballet

January 13, 2004

Royal Danish Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center

Washington, D.C.

January 13–18, 2004

Reviewed by Clive Barnes


It is still Bournonville forever! With Frank Andersen back at the helm, the Royal Danish Ballet is beginning to reclaim its former place in the ballet world. The troupe brought new productions of the nineteenth-century master’s Napoli and La Sylphide to its week in Washington, together with Harald Lander’s Etudes.

Both of the Bournonvilles are admirably traditional and basically unsurprising. Napoli’s bustling-seaport first act is generally regarded as the closest to the 1842 original and is one of the finest extant examples of the nineteenth-century ballet d’action, in which the action is expressed in naturalistic mime and the dancing is incidental to the drama. This Orpheus tale with a fresh happily-ever-after Christian ending is redolent with symbolism contrasting the good life with Golfo’s seductive world of fleshly delights.

The first-night cast had Gitte Lindstrom as Teresina and Mads Blangstrup as Gennaro. Both danced very well, with the right Bournonville buoyancy and delicacy and that steady upper body but lack of épaulement typical of the Franco-Danish style. Blangstrup acted well, but without the heart-wrenching intensity that the great Borge Ralov brought to the role. Flemming Ryberg was lovely as the ballad singer in the first act, and the dancing in the last act proved blithe and spirited. If you died watching Napoli you’d surely die happy.

Nikolaj Hubbe’s radically rethought La Sylphide has the Sylphide invisible to all but the doomed hero James, and Gurn is reinvented as a suitable substitute for James’ jilted fiancée, Effy. Gudrun Bojesen’s Sylphide was a delight—fugitive and charming, with dancing as light as Scots thistledown. Thomas Lund’s impeccable Bournonville style was impressive, but he lacked the charisma of the great Jameses in the past.

Silja Schandorff and Blangstrup were splendidly traditional in the principal roles, and there were three younger-than-usual interpretations of Madge the Witch: Lis Jeppesen, Jette Buchwald, and Mette Bodtcher, all finely vicious, vengeful, and cruel. Tina Hojlund (an especially eloquent Bournonville dancer), Maria Bernholdt, and Amy Watson impressed as Effy, as did Morten Eggert and Nicolai Hansen as the stalwart Gurn.

Lander’s Etudes (led by Caroline Cavallo, Andrew Bowman, and Jean-Lucien Massot) was well enough danced but certainly nothing more—the days when the Danes had such virtuosi in this as Jorn Madsen and Niels Kehlet are temporarily in abeyance.

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