Joyce Theater, New York, NY; January 18, 2015 (m)
The Royal Danish Ballet, one of the oldest dance companies in the world, are best known for their August Bournonville ballets, most of which are rarely seen outside Denmark. This January, principal dancer, Ulrik Birkkjaer, organized a short tour of a small troupe of Royal Danish dancers performing an all-Bournonville program, including appearances at New York’s Joyce Theater.
The program contained excerpts from six ballets, all showing off the wonderful Bournonville style, which is very different from that of most ballets performed today. The Danes are masters of petit allegro, petit batterie and marvelously buoyant leaps. Their musical phrasing is enchanting and their port de bras are absolutely gorgeous.
The afternoon began with the pas de sept from “A Folk Tale”. It is a lovely work which employs most of the Bournonville signature moves. It was followed by the pas de deux from “The Flower Festival in Genzano”, a flirtatiously playful duet well danced by Diana Cuni and Ulrik Birkkjær. Birkkjær performed very nice turns, but his landings seemed a bit heavy. Cuni’s jumps were gossamer light and her amazing feet made absolutely no sound.
The next piece was the ‘Jockey Dance’ from “From Siberia to Moscow”, the only reconstruction of the afternoon, all the other excerpts having been danced continuously since they were choreographed by Bournonville in the nineteenth century. The ‘Jockey Dance’ is a brief, entertaining piece where Sebastian Haynes and Andreas Kaas, dressed as British jockeys, tried to one-up each other while carrying riding crops. Both men performed an especially exciting leap that saw them taking off from both feet, then raising their feet under their bodies. The ‘Jockey Dance’ contained just the right amount of horseplay and technical zing
The last ballet of the first half was Act II of “La Sylphide”, the Bournonville piece known to most balletomanes outside Denmark. It is the famous story of an eighteenth century Scottish farmer, James, who falls in love with a fairy (sylph). As the Sylph, Susanne Grinder was sweet and mischievous; a child in her wants and desires. She seemed to live in the air, floating across the stage with almost unbearable lightness. But “La Sylphide” is a Bournonville work and the male danseur is challenged as much, if not more, than the ballerina. As James, Marcin Kupinski has improved incredibly in the role since I saw him dance the full ballet at the David H. Koch Theater in June 2011. His ballon was both light and explosive. His soaring leaps with the plushest of landings were very exciting. Grinder and Kupinski have wonderful chemistry and I was in tears when James realized he has killed the Sylph with the poisoned scarf he put around her shoulders.
The role of Madge, the witch who gives James the poisoned scarf, was danced by Sebastian Haynes, who is not dressed as an old lady, but as a young, prosperous looking man wearing a frock coat as he is in Nikolaj Hubbes’ new version of the ballet. In the traditional, full version of “La Sylphide”, James kicks Madge out of his house in Act I. She is dressed as a beggar woman and James refuses to even give her any scraps of food. When Madge gives James the poisoned scarf in Act II, she is taking revenge on him for throwing her out in the cold. But here, I have no idea why the male Madge is so mad at James. At the end of Sunday’s “La Sylphide”, Madge kissed James full on the lips, and then James fell to the ground. That really blew my mind. Is Madge the victim of an unhappy love affair where he was dumped by James? Is Madge jealous of any being, human or fairy who James has feelings for? I’m still confused by this strange conclusion, although interested in seeing the new adaptation so I can make sense of the role of the male Madge.
The second half of the program began with the pas de trois from “Le Conservatoire”, which is set in a French ballet school in the 1820s. Bournonville studied in Paris at the time, but while the piece contains many graceful academic steps, none of them are particularly thrilling.
The finale was the rousing celebration dances from Act III of “Napoli”. As the Danish art critic, Erik Aschengreen said in a speech given at the beginning of the afternoon, anyone who does not feel like dancing after watching Act III of “Napoli” will get their money back. I don’t believe one sole in the audience even thought of asking for that! I don’t think there is any ballet more infectiously joyously than the tarantella at the conclusion of the ballet. I wanted the afternoon to go on forever.