Long may they Dane
It was under August Bournonville’s reign as ballet master from 1830-1877 that the Royal Danish Ballet developed the uniquely understated style they still perform today. It looks sweet and cutesy from the waist up but the legwork is the devil’s own. At London’s Peacock theatre, a group of the Company’s current principals and soloists demonstrated that Bournonville’s legacy is alive and kicking nearly a hundred and fifty years after his death.
The show vaguely followed a gala-type format with lengthy selections from some of Bournonville’s most celebrated works. The pas de sept from A Folktale was a good opener, warming us nicely into the tricky footwork. Gregory Dean shone in particular with his speed across the floor and long, floating jumps. Indeed across the night, it was the men who tended to grab the attention, very much in accordance with Bournonville’s emphasis on the male dancer.
Andreas Kaas (actually still in the corps) stole away the Flower Festival in Genzano from under his senior partner’s nose – elegant and long-limbed, he was a joy to watch. This was followed by the exceedingly camp Jockeydance. Dressed in racing colours and harnessing riding crops Sebastian Haynes and Marcin Kupinski chased each other about to C.C Møller’s zappy music before trying to elbow each other out of their spotlight. Performed with just the right amount of knowing tomfoolery and technical pizzazz, they went down a well-deserved storm.
Hard on their heels came just about the whole of Act II of Bournonville’s most famous work, La Sylphide. Taken out of context, with no scenery and no synopsis, it did come across slightly odd at first but the emotive central performances soon held sway. Gudrun Bojesen’s Sylph looked a little tense to begin with but once she got a few wobbly feet out of the way she gave an impressive account of the unlucky spirit – it was genuinely moving when she was carried lifelessly away. Ulrik Birkkjaer’s James too played his part with convincing ardour and Sorella Englund’s Witch was full of spurned evil.
The pas de trios from Conservatory followed immediately after the interval and is a beautifully pieced together work, reminiscent of Mikhail Fokine’s Les Sylphides. Gudrun Bojesen, Diana Cuni and Ulrik Birkkjaer all slotted into the intricate partnering with smooth assurance and astonishing grace; the easiness on the eye was a pleasure in itself.
The big finale consisted of the 3rd act of Napoli, a long extravaganza of complex steps. The solos were incredible – the impeccable timing and musicality quite breath-taking at times – and it built up into a wonderful climax to the show.
The night’s only drawback was the poor sound quality of the pre-recorded music. However, the sheer excellence (not to mention stamina) of the dancing more than made up for that. Hopefully the Royal Danish Ballet will be back in London soon with a production that allows us to see the Company in its fully numbered and scenic glory. In the meantime this was a magnificent reminder of what great dancers and repertoire they harbour.
The Royal Danish Ballet continue at the Peacock Theatre until 10 January 2014. See the Sadler’s Wells website for more information and tickets.