Royal Danish Ballet

October 27, 2007

Royal Danish Ballet’s Silk & Knife: Jirí Kylián Unlimited

Old Stage, Copenhagen, Denmark

October 27–November 27, 2007

Reviewed by Gunild Pak Symes

With an irreverent wink and some cheeky theatrical deception, Kylián read the audiences of Denmark just right and gave them what they thought they wanted in wheelbarrows this fall with Silk & Knife. The Czech master choreographer put together a night of provocative burlesque baroque like no other, and the sold-out crowd wolfed it down with standing ovations.

Kylián created two short untitled duets, misleadingly advertised as two new ballets, slotted between old masterworks from the ’80s and ’90s including Petite Mort, Sechs Tänze, and Bella Figura. The first new duet about aging love was a comical vignette performed on the apron of the stage with distinction and wry humor by Lis Jeppesen and Poul-Erik Hesselkilde in period costume. Scantilly clad Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen performed the second poignant new duet with frenetic ardor to a selection from Schubert’s Winter Journey song cycle, sung hauntingly by Randi Stene. Unfortunately, it was awkwardly placed at the end of the program behind the polonaise ensemble from Kylián’s Arcimboldo, which gleamed with a gold lamé backdrop, flaring sparklers falling from the rafters and a full corps of women and men in red silk baroque skirts struggling to maintain unison.

In an effort to be “unconventional” by breaking the stage barrier and giving the audience a glimpse of the machinery behind the magic, Kylián commissioned a clunky and sophomoric art installation, Undergardens, by Karine Guizzo (former dancer with Nederlands Dans Theater under Kylián) placed in the cellar of Copenhagen’s 18th-century Old Stage. Self-conscious dancers, garbed in period costumes sporting obscene protrusions made of what looked like sawed-off parts from the orchestra’s horn section, improvised weakly behind cages, corners, and intestinal forms of orange papier-mâché. Some blew horns to simulate certain bodily functions. Several hundred audience members had to pass through this dusty maze before the stage show could begin an hour later. It was a dated concept that looked better on paper than in reality.

To be fair, the dancers performed Kylián’s choreography with clarity and technical finesse. However, the overwhelming carnival atmosphere and insolent tone of this lavish production caused the artistry and genius of the serious works on the program to be lost—the price of drawing provincial masses with bread and circus. It is a sad day when royally trained ballet dancers must stoop to buffoonery, cheap gimmicks, shock effect, fireworks, slapstick, and gutter humor to bring in a crowd.