A Danish Treasure Trove

Bournonville's worlds of realism and romantic fantasy seen in new light

Under Andersen's direction, the RDB has been acquiring an ambitious contemporary repertory (the 2005-2006 season includes works by John Neumeier, Kenneth MacMillan, Twyla Tharp, Angelin Prejlocaj, and new pieces by Scandinavian choreographers like Tim Rushton). And, since the first Bournonville Festival in 1979 (the second took place in 1992), several of the master's ballets have been given new productions. The Danish public, the critics, and the company dancers are, we're told, a little bored with Bournonville, and some refreshing was needed.

Changes in scenery, costume, and direction aroused some controversy. In several new sets, painterliness seemed the object. Why was there no window in Christian Friedländer's set for the short-and-sweet 1856 La Ventana—a window through which a Spanish lady could toss and receive a rose? She seemed to inhabit not a chamber and a courtyard but a picture gallery. The view outside the window in Michael Melbye's oddly palatial house for James in La Sylphide is not the alluring forest domain of Melbye's front scrim and second-act set, but something that looks like desert rock formations. A minor anomaly in a Sylphide coached to bring out the passion by Nikolaj Hübbe, a splendid James during his years with the company.

Marie-Pierre Greve in Far From Denmark
photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne
Marie-Pierre Greve in Far From Denmark

Rikke Juellund, who designed the new production of the lusty folk tale The Kermesse at Bruges (sensitively directed by another ex-RDG principal, Lloyd Riggins), drastically simplified the look of the ballet. Her Bruges is a series of dark, free-standing silhouettes of buildings , where almost everyone wears plain-lined, solid-color costumes—some pale, some a vivid scarlet. The stage looks like a handsome illustration for a children's book, abetted by Jesper Kongshaug's Vermeerish lighting. One cavil: Without his study crammed with musty books, the heroine's benevolent magician-father hardly appears a candidate for burning at the stake. Most of Karin Betz's primarily red-and-blue designs for Amager also have an airy, uncluttered charm, even though they're odd in some ways (distant blurry videos of sledding and a slow wagon at the back, a small house-shaped folk-art painting with a practical door in it). The lovely layered red cutouts (like stencil-templates) that frame the stage recall H.C. Andersen's cut-paper artwork. More than unfortunate, however, are Betz's dresses for the forgiving wife, Louise, and her friends; they appear to be wearing salmon-colored negligees instead of Napoleonic era winter attire. There are more pink-clad women in a new, awkwardly staged scene concocted by the ballet's director, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter—probably to provide more "dancing." We hardly need the hero's vision of drifty remembered women to tell us what we already know: he's a Don Juan. Karen Lund Nielsen has designed fine new costumes for the lecherous undersea king, Golfo, and his Naiads in the second-act of Napoli, and Dinna Bjørn, who re-created the vanished second-act for the 1992 Festival, has further improved this Blue Grotto scene of temptation and magic transformation. No more male sea divinities hoisting papier maché boulders to crush the hero. The rest of Napoli remains unchanged, and was so whole-heartedly performed that I shed tears of joy after every act.

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