LAST EDITED ON 01-Feb-00 AT 09:09 AM (GMT)
The Royal Danish Ballet's Bournonville Week opened on 22 January with the premiere of a new production of Bournonville's "The Kermesse in Bruges" at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in the presence of HM Queen Margrethe II. The three other programmes were "La Sylphide" preceded by "Konservatoriet", "Napoli", and "A Folk Tale". This Bournonville Week is somewhat smaller in scale than the two previous Bournonville Festivals in 1992 and 1979, but it was still attended by 30 critics from all over the world.
"Kermesse" means a celebration of the feast of the patron saint of the main church of each Belgian town. "The Kermesse in Bruges" is a moral tale about the unchecked powers of magic. The story is centred around three youths Adrian, Geert, and Carelis, as well as the alchemist Mirewelt's daughter Eleonore with whom Carelis is in love. After the three lads have rescued Eleonore from being abducted, the grateful Mirewelt gives each of them a gift with special magical power, which after many complications solve all problems in the end. Carelis, above all, is given a bass viol which can force everyone to dance. It is this magical viol that causes the story's final comic denouement. Is there a better justification to dance in 19th century narrative ballet than this magic viol, besides the Queen of Wilis in Act 2 of "Giselle" forcing Albrecht to dance till death?
This new production of "Kermesse" was directed by Jan Maagaard, Ann Marie Vessel, and Dinna Bjorn. Bjorn added a brand-new divertissement in Act 2 with music by Kim Helweg. In the original version of "Kermesse", there was no divertissement choreographed by Bournonville; and it was only in later versions that a divertissement was inserted from a completely different ballet. Two scenes have also been restored - Act 1 Scene 2 which sees the lovers Eleonore and Carellis alone together for the first time, in Mirewelt's study; and Act 2 Scene 2 in which Mirewelt is accused of sorcery. The composer Helweg has also come up with a major new arrangement of H.S. Paulli's score for "Kermesse", having borrowed freely from Rossini and from himself.
This is the first time that I have seen this particular Bournonville ballet, and hence I am not in a position to compare this new production with its predecessors. However, I gather that not all the revisions were welcomed by the Danish critics; One of whom told me that the circular clog dance in Act 1 has now lost its fun, because one can no longer hear the clogs banging on the ground. Nevertheless I was impressed by the sumptuous Baroque costumes and sets designed by Lars Juhl, which in the first scene in Act 2 set in the house of the wealthy widow Mrs. van Everdingen have a colourful flourish that evoke a Watteau painting.
In this scene, Peter Bo Bendixen gave a brilliant performance as the dandyish Geert who is well provided by the widow. It is dificult to forget him luxuriating in the splendid attire provided by van Everdingen's household complete with lace shoes and a plumed hat, his ravenousness at the banquet, and the delight that he showed on his face after having been given a clean shave by the attendants.
The performance also had distinguished performances by the Royal Danish Ballet's character dancers. Kirsten Simone was a humane Trutje, the mother of the two girls who are the fiancees of Adrian and Geert, extracting every emotion inherent in the role, especially in that episode when she suddenly finds herself the centre of the gentlemen's adoration after she has worn Geert's magic ring. As the alchemist Mirewelt, Tommy Frishoi had dignity, and his mime had weight and gravitas. Lise Jeppesen shone as the chic widow Mrs. van Everdingen.
Heading the Act 2 divertissement Rose Gad, and Alexei Ratmansky (promoted to principal on 19 January) danced elegantly. Morten Eggert was a vivacious jester Narren.
In the leading roles were Gudrun Bojesen, and Thomas Lund (also promoted to principal on 19 January). Lund won the audience's hearts as the hero Carelis, his dancing impressed with his high elevation and intricate footwork befitting the Bournonville style. Bojesen, promoted to soloist on the morning of the premiere, was a convincing Elenore. In the second cast on 25 January, Tina Hojlund was a more buxom Eleonore, while Mads Blangstrup had a winning charm as Carelis.
The other programme that I saw was "La Sylphide", arguably Bournonville's most famous ballet which is in the repertory of many ballet companies worldwide. As the Sylphide, Silja Schandorff had an ethereal figure, while Caroline Cavallo was more moving, especially in her crest-fallen state after she had lost her wings at the end of the ballet.
Mads Blangstrup, Schandorff's James in the first cast, was languorous, full of romantic ardour. Johann Kobborg (taking a week off from the Royal Ballet in London) in the other cast had more depth in acting out James' obsession with the Sylphide. Kobborg's batterie and ballon were impressive, and he also seemed to be able to suspend himself briefly in the air at the height of his soaring jumps.
Special mention must also be made of Jean-Lucien Massot who convincingly portrayed both the refined and earthy aspects of Gurn, James' rival. Sorella Englund was a menacing Madge.
"La Sylphide" was preceded by "Konservatoriet". The ballet master was danced by Kobborg and Mads Blangstrup in different casts. Kobborg had more exuberance, while Blangstrup's stylish dancing had more elegance.
In the afternoon of Sunday 23 January, there was a performance by the Royal Danish Ballet School. Extracts from Bournonville's ballets were performed, including the Mirror Dance from "La Ventana", the Eskimo Dance from "Far From Denmark", "Polka Militaire", the Reel Dance from "The Lifeguards on Amagen". Rounding off the one hour of performance was the pas de deux from "The Flower Festival in Genzano", danced by company principals Caroline Cavallo and Thomas Lund.
In addition, there were three exhibitions presented as part of this Bournonville Week. One was at the Theatre Museum, another was inside the building of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The largest one was entitled "Bournonville the European", which opened at the Royal Library on 25 January, and was edited by research librarian Knud Arne Jurgensen.