Peacock Theatre, London, UK; January 9, 2015

Charlotte Kasner

The Royal Danish Ballet in 'Conservatoire'. Photo © Costin Radu

The Royal Danish Ballet in ‘Conservatoire’.
Photo © Costin Radu

We see the Royal Danish Ballet all too rarely, so what a delight then, to experience this smorgasbord of their most celebrated works.

One of the oldest companies in the world, they are the repository of the great August Bournonville’s work, although it is not a museum piece but a living tradition that we witness. Seeing the intricate épaulement, batterie, use of the head and upper torso, it is clear how much has been sacrificed by the current mania for high extensions and general flashiness. How glorious to see pirouettes from deep pliés and jetés from second position. How exciting.

The evening opened with the pas de sept from Bournonville’s “A Folk Tale”; the wedding set piece. It contains all the signature movements that one might expect with a myriad of technical demands throughout. It was somewhat of a shaky start though, especially from the women. The men were much more assured, producing feather-light landings and twinkling batterie, although turns were less than perfect. Indeed, most of the dancers seemed to struggle with tours, turns and promenades. Was the stage sticky? Costumes, a rather garish red, were not very appealing.

The surviving section of “Flower Festival at Genzano” used to be a staple of Festival Ballet’s and Ballet Rambert’s repertoire, but has been sadly neglected in recent decades on our shores. It is a delightful work with many challenges for dancers and it avoids the tweeness of much of the 19th Century oeuvre. It is in safe hands here, with fine performances from Diana Cuni and Andreas Kaas. Kaas is powerful but nuanced and Cuni assured and delicate. Bournonville created great dance, with every step imbued with character. A little glance here, a brushing kiss there, this makes sense of épaulement by connecting it with eye contact and flirting. The costumes, in fetching shades of green, are gorgeous; at one point, the arc formed by the hem of Cuni’s skirt echoes the curve of Kaas’ arm in perfect harmony.

Ulrik Birkkjær as James in 'La Sylphide'.  Photo © Costin Radu

Ulrik Birkkjær as James in ‘La Sylphide’.
Photo © Costin Radu

The “Jockeys’ Dance” is a perennial gala favourite, although one suspects that riding “From Siberia to Moscow” (the ballet from which it comes) would not be that much fun nor costumes stay so clean! Martin Kutinski and Sebastian Haynes produced strong performances without ever descending into cartoonish caricature with both landing as silently as panthers.

The first half ended with Act II of “La Sylphide”, a rather long section given the lack of set. Not one of my favourites at the best of times, it was rather tedious, however credit must be given to Sorella Englund who gave us an impressive Old Madge.

The second half was devoted to two pieces: a pas de trios from “Conservatoire” and the pas de six and tarantella from “Napoli”. The pas de trios was delightful with a particularly strong performance from Ulrik Birkkjaer. “Napoli” was danced with great gusto and brought the evening to a rousing conclusion.

Let us hope that we don’t have to wait another decade to see this company again, and perhaps with sufficient funding to provide live music.