Inscrit le: 19 Jan 2004
|Posté le: Mar Juin 21, 2005 8:34 pm Sujet du message: Languishing at the very edge of civilisation ?
June 3rd to 12th 2005
Languishing at the very edge of civilisation ?
June 3rd to 12th 2005
AN IDEA, WHOSE TIME IS COME
For those who were under the impression that Denmark is Tiny Toytown, or a provincial backwater languishing at the edge of civilisation, think again.
Greenland, the largest island in the world, lynchpin of the North Atlantic, happens to be Danish.
In the 21st Century, as the conquest of space goes forward, and space-age technology comes to be applied to our planet, Greenland, more than a geo-political asset, will be one of the great sources of strategic metals and minerals in the world, and no doubt habitable by a fairly large population as well. Danish Eskimos perhaps, but they are Danes nonetheless. At the time of writing, in 2005, the average wage in Denmark is two and a half times that of France. It has just completed two gigantic infrastructure schemes, viz., the Great Belt Bridge connecting Sealand to Funen, and the Oresund Bridge to Sweden, giving employment to thousands. It is one of the most highly-industrialised, agriculturally productive, and literate places on earth.
Its population may, for the moment, be small, but this is a nation that within the next half-century, stands to become markedly more powerful.
Such is the State that has now decided to throw its weight behind the ideas of a "mere" ballet dancer, Auguste Bournonville.
A Ballet Dancer, critical to a nation's identity?
Few Europeans would care to entertain the notion that the classical dance might be a major art form, and still less, that a ballet master might be as critical to the identity of a major European state as Pushkin, say, is for Russia.
But it is happening, and before our eyes.
Over the last twenty years, as Bournonville's writings and correspondence with musicians and thinkers all over Europe have come to light, and as interest has risen over his Schools abroad, we have moved away from the Cute Guys and Dolls preserve of the balletomane, into an area more relevant to Governments and thinkers.
In 2005, torture is again practised by purportedly civilised states, activists of every stripe think nothing of blowing up passers-by to express a trifling political disagreement, and 90% of Internet traffic is pornography. To step forward and defend the notion that the body is the temple of the Soul, has become a statement of political relevance.
Consequently, neither the Danes' Head of State, nor their Government, have erred in making what will be seen fifty years from now as a bold and insightful move.
To give the reader some idea of the multiplicity of efforts that have come together in the Bournonville bicentennial, below, an incomplete list of the events.
- For eight nights, performances of each of Bournonville's extant works at the Royal Theatre,
- for seven evenings, demonstrations of the Bournonville Schools,
- three performances in the Mime Theatre at the Tivoli Gardens,
- an illustrated conference on commedia dell'arte and Bournonville's mime.
- two exhibitions at the Royal Library on the relation between Bournonville and H.C. Andersen, that can be visited on line at http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/hcateater/,
- "Tyl og Trikot", an exhibition at the National Museum with 150 years of original costumes from the Bournonville ballets (See http://www.nationalmuseet.dk/sw4509.asp),
- an exhibition at the Thorvaldsen Museum "Everything Dances", including a number of Greek and Etruscan objects from the sculptor Thorvaldesen's private collection on the dance (See http://www.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk/page98.aspx),
- an exhibition at Bournonville's residence at Fredensborg, relating essentially to his correspondence throughout Europe and his religious beliefs,
- an exhibition at the old Court Theatre (home to the Royal Ballet School until 1853), with photographs, stage designs, props and portraits dating back to the time of Galeotti and Bournonville's father Antoine,
- an exhibition at the Royal Theatre's New Stage on Bournonville's activities throughout Europe (virtual tour at http://www.kgl-teater.dk/dkt2002/bournonville2005/uk/forside/index2.html).
This writer attended nearly all the aforesaid exhibitions, and can testify to the quality of the research on which they are based. This was not a hastily-thrown together package to "fluff out" the off-hours between performances.
- "Etudes chorégraphiques" (1848-1855-1861 editions) by Bournonville, trilingual scholarly edition (to appear in August 2005),
- "Letters from France and Italy - 1841", by Bournonville to his wife,
- The correspondence of Hans Christian Andersen and Bournonville,
- "August Bournonville", by Ditlev Tamm (a summary of Bournonville's life),
- "The Music for the Bournonville Ballets" (nine CD's by the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by a bilingual book edited by the musicologist Ole Norlying, entitled Dansen er en Kunst (The Dance is an Art Form),
- The Bournonville School (DVD being volume one, musical scores - being volume two, the steps being volume 3).
Foreign correspondents, of whom there were roughly 150 (!), and foreign professors (where were the French?), were invited to attend the daily classes and rehearsals in the Royal Theatre, and to discuss with staff and members of the troupe.
Following each performance, the foreign contingent was invited to receptions, several being attended by the Head of State Margrethe, and by the entire staff and troupe of the Royal Theatre, with a simplicity and hospitality the likes of which are unknown in any other major European institution.
The Head of State attended every performance, and on the final day, the Royal Family turned up at full strength. Whatever one's political views, the message to the world rang out like a bell: the oldest constituted nation-state in Europe has ranged itself squarely on the side of the classical dance.
As the final performance ended, a fireworks display on Kongens Nytorv was put on, of a splendour that the dancing trade has never yet seen to honour of one of its members.
What this represents, in terms of a two-year effort by the leadership, dancers, professors and logistics staff associated with the Royal Theatre is beyond what any "normal" person would even consider doing. Many of those involved had slept three to five hours a night for the last several months.
The Bournonville Schools
On Saturday June 4th, at the old Court Theatre in the Christiansborg Ridebane, there was presented to the foreign press and professors what may, in the long run, prove to be the central achievement of this Festival and of Frank Andersen's second term as Artistic Director: a fully revised and concordant edition of Kirsten Ralov's Bournonville Six Schools, as those were compiled by his successor Hans Beck.
The Schools now appear as a three-volume package. In one volume, the steps are reported; each enchaînement bearing a number that corresponds to the numbering in the volume of musical scores, and in turn, to the tracks on a double DVD, where leading artists of the Royal Theatre are seen to dance each step and enchaînement.
A monumental undertaking. The dancers (Gudrun Bojesen, Caroline Cavallo, Thomas Lund, Kristoffer Sakurai, Mads Blangstrup) and professors (Mie Vessel, Frank Andersen, Dinna Bjoern, Flemming Ryberg) cancelled their summer holidays for the years 2003 and 2004, and worked in 45 degree heat to prepare the films.
In 1967, Dr. Alan Fredericia had brought out for Danish Television a six-hour programme on the Schools, some passages of which were superbly danced by the likes of Arne Bech, Toni Lander and Flemming Ryberg. The Schools were not, however, broadcast in full, nor were they ever dubbed into other languages and published. Consequently, they could not be used as a working document for professors and dancers all over the world.
On Frank Andersen's return as Artistic Director in 2002, he and Anne-Marie Vessel, who heads the Royal Theatre's academy, decided to release these Schools to the world at large. On Saturday June 4th, Mr. Andersen introduced the undertaking from the New Stage at Staerekassen with the words, "This has been done for all eternity".
The point is the survival of the classical dance, not Bournonville as such. The consideration is universal, and that is what has given the team at the Royal Theatre the energy to see it through.
The contents of the three volumes is the entire vocabulary of the Western classical dance, much of which has fallen into disuse over the last half-century, and was about to slip away into oblivion. It is as though the works of Aeschylos had been lost, and found again. As the DVD's producer Ulrik Wivel, a former dancer, stated, "It is a language."
Raising the funds for the Schools was very difficult, the more so as their publication is heavily subsidised: the actual cost to the public should in fact be over 1000 Crowns, over twice the current listed price.
I, for one, cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to the team at the Royal Theatre, and particularly to Frank Andersen who has set free this bird, a bird that cannot be caged or "managed" by any one single person, theatre or entity.
Never before have the Schools been seen in their entirety by anyone outwith the Royal Theatre. They are difficult, indeed many of the enchaînements are of transcendental difficulty. As for the steps that make up the enchaînements, many are performed in ways, relative to today's practice, that greatly increase both the difficulty, and the pedagogical and performance value.
For example, the way we perform ballotté today, we do coupé, posé, change leg, coupé développé. Consequently, we should call it bercé, rather than ballotté, because we are not shaking the body, but merely rocking it. In the Bournonville school, there is no posé - the entire body oscillates back and forth over the one leg. The pedagogical value of this advanced exercice is that it develops the centre and "reins" (the kidneys, as they were used to call the lower-back muscles) in a very dynamic form, almost as though it were a "shaken" temps levé, rather than using the high retiré as a brace, and the posé to plonk down and rest "in between takes". The performance value is that it is an expressive, almost dramatic, shaking of the entire body.
Another example, the pirouettes in out and of manifold positions, such as the tricky preparation for en-dedans pirouettes from second. These pirouettes were performed with retiré sur le cou de pied. Their pedagogical value is that with the low retiré, one uses the full arsenal of postural muscles. The performance value, is that the entire torso is elegantly pulled up and placed. With the high retiré at the knee used today, the knee joint is used as a brace; although we turn more easily and turn more turns, the retiré being closer the centre of gravity, in terms of performance value the turn is more mechanical, less fluent.
Bournonville's requirement of the pulled-up torso sheds light, negatively, on the current fad for the "weight-bearing" tendu. As we have seen with that low retiré position, the torso must be held by postural muscles at all times. The modern practice of over-pointing the foot and grinding it into the floor in tendu to shew off the high arch, which means weight-transfer onto that foot, is justified neither in bio-mechanics, nor in dance terms.
Shortly before leaving, we learnt that plans are now afoot to copy onto DVD, so as to make available to the general public worldwide, the past fifty years of Bournonville productions stashed away in the treasure-trove at Danmarks Radio. This will take time, but it is in the pipeline.
On Friday June 11th, Dinna Bjoern, now head of the Finnish National Ballet, and daughter of the great mime Niels Bjoern Larsen, presented the Friday School at Staerekassen. She began by saying that although today, we like to believe that we are more technical, on account of the extremes to which we have taken certain, limited, aspects of the technique, notably turns and extension, perusal of the Schools may lead one to conclude otherwise. She then spoke with a contagious passion of the great importance these Schools will have for the emergence of new choregraphy. Which is, of course, the critical issue: we cannot go on dancing The Sleeping Beauty and Napoli like a broken record, en boucle, till the end of time!
On Saturday June 4th, in the old Court Theatre, the introduction to the Bournonville Schools, that forms the first track of the DVD, was shewn to the foreign representatives on a large screen. Interviewed as to why they had chosen to launch the project, the team recalled, inter alia, what Bournonville's followers Hans Beck, Kirsten Ralov and Hans Brenaa had meant for the dance. Although this was "just" a film, there was for a moment no applause, but silence in the room, as the message made its rounds.
I have now looked through the two volumes with the scores and steps, and seen extracts from the Schools on the DVD. This bird will fly. Any thinking dancer, anywhere in the world, can pick this up, and work with it. It may not be perfect, but we are in the real world, not in cloud-cuckoo land.
Are the films danced as beautifully as they were in 1967, by that I mean, are all the accents, the inflections, the wit, the irony, the playful approach to the music, is it all still there ?
The answer, is that what appears on the 2005 DVD, is a sober, down-to-earth representation, rather lacking in mystery or poetry. In the ladies (why was Diana Cuni not involved in making the film?), the épaulement is rather stiffly starched, while some movements reveal the impact on the body of the fad for hyper-extensions. Do those flaws matter ? NO, they do NOT.
Forget cloud cuckoo-land.
These dancers live in the real world, under extreme pressure. The environment outwith the theatre is saturated with Terminator, video games and rock music. Artists though they be, they cannot hide from the wars, the killings and the misery that have turned most of the world's population into chronic depressives. It is so commendable in these young people to have shouldered responsibility for the project and to have brought it to the high level they have, that any wallowing in nostalgia for the days of Arne Bech and Toni Lander is a bad habit, full stop.
A glimpse into Vulcan's smithy
New research on Bournonville's notion of plastique and épaulement
In the ballet, we are rather inclined to believe that we live in a history-free zone, and that plastique and épaulement just plain "growed", like plums on a tree.
Well no, actually. The plums "growed" at a precise moment in time, the late 18th to early 19th Century, when the Renascence achievements in the plastic arts were looked at afresh by dancers, in the light of the breakthroughs by Haydn and Beethoven. The rigid patterns and purely-ornamental use of the port de bras - the balletic equivalent to post Council of Trent painting and sculpture - fell well short of expressing the complexity of this new music.
During the Festival, teachers and researchers explained that they are now looking at the difference between the experiments in technique conducted by Auguste Vestris, Gardel and so forth at the Paris Opera in the early 19th Century, and what Bournonville describes as a "complete change" in his method after his first voyage to Italy in 1841, where he met up with the work of Paolo Comengo and Salvatore Taglioni at Naples, Carlo Blasis, and other Italian ballet masters.
Now, it is sometimes thought that Vestris' use of "bras bas" means a rigid upper body and no épaulement. Error. As Professor Tully at London has said, the upper body is deployed by the Vestris school precisely as Antony Tudor did, in other words the épaulement is expressed by the torso alone, the arms are scarcely used. The principle of movement is the same, the use of the spinal column is the same, although the expressivity of gesture is, manifestly, lesser than it would be with full port de bras.
My hypothesis is that although these early 19th Century French professors did not disregard contrapposto, as that appears in Renascence draughtsmanship, their priority was to respond to the new music and go beyond terre à terre dance, to a new dance of elevation. They invented many steps, and while the old terre à terre steps remained in the vocabulary, these acquired a double, a twin: the same step, performed with great elevation, and then a triple, the same step with great elevation and beaten. Had Vestris et al. attempted to fuss about with the ports de bras at the same time, the dancers would not have been able to cope. It would have been chaos.
So the first generation of the "vraie, grande danse" was at Paris.
Once this breakthrough had been assimilated, the second stage was Italy, where Blasis and his colleagues were secure enough in the new technique to develop full port de bras and follow through on the épaulement, with the freedom and poetic abandon that characterises the Italian nation.
How does the notion of plastique fit into this debate ? It is relatively easy to hold a draughtsman's pose when promenading, as in the slow dances of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. It becomes trickier with the speed and brilliance of terre à terre dance, and a matter of transcendental difficulty in the dance of great elevation in the time of Vestris fils.
The goal was to integrate the Renascence plastique into the new dance, just as Beethoven had with the teachings of Bach.
Allow me now to put forward another hypothesis concerning the "intermediary" stage between the "Tudor-like" épaulement of the Vestris school at Paris, and the new Italian approach.
At the Thorvaldsen Museum, an exhibition was held entitled "Everything Dances". Amongst the objects on display, was a sketch book from Thorvaldsen's forty-year stay in Rome. The sketch in question is of someone called, if I recall aright, Irene Bude who visited Thorvaldsen at Rome in the 1820s or so. She was herself an actress or singer. At Thorvaldsen's studio, several artists would gather, and dressed in Greek garb, she would move for them to music, and then freeze for a few seconds. The artists present would sketch what they called "attitudes", or "postures".
Judging by the sketch displayed in the Copenhagen exhibition, these "attitudes" seem to have been of painterly quality, with a wonderful "in-between" dynamic of motion, and Irene Bude is said to have been able to convey many shades of affect.
Her "attitudes" apparently became a subject of discussion in the Italian artistic milieu. Thorvaldsen was a protégé of the sculptor Antonio Canova (the latter had a great influence on classical dance, as Professor Pappacena has documented), and was himself so interested in the dance that he acquired a large collection of art representing the dance from Etruscan times onwards. Consequently, the connection between Irene Bude's "attitudes" or "postures", and the debate in the dance world at that time over plastique is, I think, rather intriguing.
Here, one should note that in Le Conservatoire, Act I, there are many strongly accented passages in the music, that allow for a moment's pause in the enchaînements, as though to "fix" the plastique. This may have been typical of Vestris, but it is not typical of Bournonville's later works where both the flow of movement, and the plastique, must be unbroken.
Or, in the words of solo dancer Gudrun Bojesen, who herself plays wind instruments, "It's like playing a wind instrument. (....) By the end of the phrase, the air is still flowing even though your line has finished. It's the same when you dance. There's continuous energy through your body that shews you're still moving, even though you might be standing still in a pose".
Tentacles studded with Microscopic Stinging Capsules
In modern times, things began to go seriously wrong, when latter-day exponents of what is deceptively called the "Vaganova" school, began to use the arms as an ornament, independently of épaulement, thus making the dance trite and effeminate, and paving the King's high road for what Horst Koegler amusingly calls port de jambes. Like a sea anemone, the legs now want to get in on the act too! Or, as the dictionary puts it: "although sea anemones look like flowers, they are actually predatory creatures .... the tentacles studded with microscopic stinging capsules called nematocysts that paralyze and entangle small marine animals".
So, little fish, don't say you haven't been warned.
Innovations in scenic design
Bournonville was one of the first ballet masters who had not only the power, but the personal intent, to oversee every detail of scenic and costume design. He wrote,
"The true magic of a play is realised only when the situation is supported by a faithful picture of time and place. The costumes and settings are executed under my supervision, and until I declare a work to be ready, no-one may schedule it for performance."'
Viben Bech, in an essay drafted for the exhibition "Tulle and Tricot", writes that this close relation between the libretto, the steps and Bournonville's own scheme for the costumes and settings, has led all the troupe's Artistic Directors, with the exception of Flemming Flindt in the late 1960s, to cleave closely to the ballet master's original designs. Mr. Bech writes, "The Bournonville style is not that easy to change - it is all part of the deal, as it were; if too much is changed in just one area, the harmony is lost, and then everything might as well be changed."
However, the designers have been given complete liberty, in what Mr. Bech calls "fantasy costumes" - the trolls, the costumes for masked balls, and so forth. Although I must say that I find that fantasy has gone a little too far with the trolls in the current production of A Folk Tale. Rather than being eerie, they are ludicrous, and only serve to lower the tone of the whole.
As for the pronounced tendency towards making dancers into sex objects, that has plagued the ballet throughout its history, Bournonville was categorical: "I hate exposure of any kind, both in the theatre and in social life; attention must not be diverted from art to focus on sensual objects...."
When it came to stage design, though, Bournonville was very much an innovator.
In Whitney Byrn's essay for the same exhibition, he explains that Napoli represents a complete break with the tradition of "illusionistic theatre", where the set-painters were used to create the illusion of three-dimensional reality through painted wings, drops and borders. The sets, he explains, were formerly something that "the performer passed through on their way downstage, and in front of which they performed.... simply background".
The idea of uniting all the aspects of a production, so that "the performers, the costumes and the sets created a unified production" did not exist, and in this respect, Christian Ferdinand Christensen's designs for Napoli were a sensation.
Christensen's collaboration with Bournonville began in 1835 (The Tyroleans), the sets for which were no longer background, but a dynamic "stage environment". He then did the sets for the Forest in Act II of La Sylphide (1836). As an actor of the day wrote: "so true and poetic representation had never yet been seen on the Danish stage. It seemed that one could freely wander amongst beech branches, where fresh leaves hung so lifelike and light, as though the wind might move them".
With each new production, writes Byrn, Christensen went further, introducing new design elements. In 1838-1839, he left to work at the Paris Opera. On returning from Paris, he created the designs for Bournonville's ballet The Festival at Albano, with "three-dimensional buildings, with balconies, stairs and various levels .... the performers could move in and through the space." He then extended this to all three Acts of Napoli, where "all the elements of the production were completely dependent on the others: the music, the costumes, the dance, the lighting, the set...; remove one and the rest would be orphaned."
Christensen's basic set design for Napoli was used, virtually intact, from 1841 to 1875, and only slight changes have been effected since.
Act I of Le Conservatoire is, as the reader knows, a depiction of Vestris' class of 1820 at Paris, a heart-stopping moment. I could watch it five hundred times.
At least, I could, save for the bit with the developpés à la seconde. Every woman in the troupe suddenly picks up the leg, and with a "Look Ma, no Hands!" grin, throws it up smartly against the ear. In fact, I think that Haley Henderson in the back row actually had that leg twisted round her neck.
Now, in her Introduction to the Schools, Anne-Marie Vessel writes that one should not pick up the leg, as that "has an adverse effect on the aesthetics, and ruins the line".
Try telling that to a classroom full of nineteen-year-old girls suffering from Guillemitis ! Try telling that to soloists who would not want the foreign press to think "that they just can't do it", and that they'd be "rotten at Balanchine".
Diana Cuni and Caroline Cavallo may be holding the fort, but where are the rest of the troops?
But can they dance ?
The general sentiment in France, and in Russia, seems to be that the Danes have a quaint little repertoire and quaint little dancers. Or, as a sleek Parisian put it the other day: "Don't tell me they can dance?"
Gang, they can dance.
The Danish School is reputed for its men, and accordingly one hears about town "the Danes have never produced a ballerina". For my part, having been knocked for a loop in recent history by Toni Lander, Anne-Marie Dybdal and Lis Jeppesen, inter alia, I've never quite understood what is meant by a "ballerina". Someone who looks good in a short tutu?
Be that as it may, and although Gudrun Bojesen and Caroline Cavallo are well-known internationally, and for good reason, the Royal Theatre boasts two other ladies who most definitely are ballerinas.
Both are soloists, a rank equivalent to that of premier danseur in France.
First, Diana Cuni. On the strength of what I've seen over the last two years, I would venture to suggest that she may, at the present time, be the Royal Theatre's leading Bournonville ballerina.
The lady is small, dark, very un-Danish looking, and un-photogenic to boot, which is doubtless why she does not appear in promotional brochures. But this is an absolutely superb dancer. Owing to the strength in her back and centre, and to her dance, that will literally grow from the music like tendrils reaching out from a vine, she is as elegant and interesting in the adagio passages as in the allegro.
Diana Cuni's épaulement is truly non-pareil, she has mastered it, she revels and exults in it, and she is the only woman in the troupe who does. She is so confident with the épaulement, that she will dare to do what, in anyone else, would be taking tremendous risks - watch her renversés. For so small a dancer, she covers a vast space, shuddering like a bolt of lightning across the stage, without, however, ever opening the articulations beyond their natural ambitus. Rather like the interesting, and equally small, Roberta Marquez at Covent Garden, she understands the forces that lift and carry one, and rides upon them as though surfing a wave. Her batterie in all positions, even in the most difficult turning steps, is impeccable and swift, her elevation thrilling, her landing from the jump silent as a breath. Diana Cuni also happens to be a most vivid mime, vanishing with gusto into each personage - what a portrayal of Cadet Poul!
All these qualities allow her to abandon herself completely, and as though recklessly, to the dance. A rare experience.
The next lady to watch out for is Miss Tina Hoejlund. Although her appearance would mark her out as the brunette equivalent of a dizzy blonde, with her heart-shaped face and Cupid's bow lips, this is a serious dancer, and one to be seriously reckoned with. She was seen during the Festival as Teresina in Napoli, as Birthe in A Folk Tale, as Effie in La Sylphide, and in a number of solo variations. Outstanding as Teresina, it was her work in the ungrateful roles of Birthe and Effie that lends insight into her special theatrical powers.
Over the past 150 years, the role of Birthe, once almost tragic, as one sees from K.A. Juergensen's book "The Bournonville Ballets, a Photographic Record", has become increasing futile and clownish. Birthe is now tricked out in shrieking orange and yellow, with a hideous red wig, and plays the fool. But what Tina Hoejlund did with it ! Never would I have imagined that, in that awful wig and costume, one could somehow make plain the idea of demonic possession - that Birthe desires ardently to be a human being, but MUST go over to the devils.
As Birthe is led off, in her folly, to a venal marriage, she turns back, looking as it were, for her human self, only to close the shutters of the soul again - well, there are few dancers in this body-obsessed day and age, who can still do such things.
Although Nikolai Huebbe's new production of La Sylphide was otherwise marred by garish lighting, silly sets, and by mime scenes and dancing frenzied almost to the point of mania, Miss Hoejlund's Effie was the quiet voice of taste, appropriateness and sensibility, that saved a work of art that evening for many amongst us.
The foreign press and observers were, on the whole, very taken with dancers like David Kupinski and Yao Wei, presumably because they conform to the image of what one today expects from a ballet dancer. But the pair's interpretation of the great pas de deux in La Kermesse à Bruges, was a parody of the real thing - an innocent parody, but a parody. Some of us, though, have seen the real thing.
Now, these are people are in their very early twenties, they are foreigners, and have been with the troupe for but two or three years. They cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as Bournonville dancers, but are rather products of what today is called "Vaganova School", an athletic or acrobatic side-track that Vaganova herself would not have endorsed.
These youngsters are still at the stage of tacking on a weak and unsupported, purportedly "decorative" arm, to a poker-stiff torso. In the case of Yao Wei, one observes sky-high, uncontrolled extensions that preclude all épaulement, the end-effect being preciosity and mannierism.
Because épaulement is not a tacked-on stylistic "tic", like people who compulsively scratch their nose or pull out their hair. It is, alongside the notion of aplomb, the cornerstone of the Bournonville TECHNIQUE.
Now, I will very likely be eating my hat about Yao Wei and David Kupinski in another three years, because people change, and they may catch the ball and run with it.
Jean-Lucien Massot certainly has. Here is one example of a Frenchman who has been with the Royal Theatre since 1993, and had never, until very recently "got the point" of Bournonville. Suddenly, three years ago, at about age 31 (!), he decided, as he himself acknowledges, to work with his professors on it, and on the first evening, in La Ventana, I nearly fell off my chair when the fellow stepped out onto on the stage. Shades of Flemming Flindt at the height of his career forty years back, without Flindt's boorishness - the exuberant ballon, the bounding and rebounding quality of the plié, the buoyant use of space. I simply could not believe it was the Massot we had known !
Somewhat disputed outwith Denmark, where she where she is extremely, and as we shall see, justifiably popular is the ballerina Caroline Cavallo. She has never gone down well with the French, as her dancing lacks that hard, glittering edge of "chic", that has come in recent decades to replace dance quality and the more elusive and delicate emotions proper to mankind.
However, those who have watched her over the last eighteen years, both in class - where the quality and intensity of her effort must be seen to be believed - and on stage, have seen flashes and shades of Fonteyn, not consistently perhaps, owing to her extreme shyness, but something that draws one in, and that reminds one of what Bournonville said about his ballerina Juliette Price.
A perplexing case is that of the soloist Morten Eggert, who is by now about 27 years of age, and possibly the single most eccentric dancer in Europe. Certainly, his affinity for Bournonville is innate, and he can accordingly do things no-one else could get away with. As the cobbler Abdallah, Mr. Eggert can make an entire room fall about with laughter, without ever being coarse or stepping out of character. The Act II orgy in Abdallah was an example of masterfully-jauged and controlled mime, while his Gurn is a harsh portrait of jealousy, near to the treachery of a Hilarion.
However, when everything is going swimmingly, a sign will suddenly flash across Mr. Eggert's forehead: "What would happen if......?" and we are In For It. Mr. Eggert is about to do something that no-one on stage could possibly anticipate.
It will be neither vulgar, nor unseemly, but it may be jarring and inappropriate. For example, Effie has just cast off her bridal crown and veil. As Gurn, Mr. Eggert, splendid throughout Act One, rushes upstage and clutches the veil to his bosom, as though it were George Bush Senior's Blankie. Only as the curtain falls does he remember to turn his head to look at Effie. Jarring and inappropriate. There are other examples, and one hopes that Mr. Eggert will decide to clean up his act, and stabilise his On-Off dancing as well (one night On, the next Off), because if he does, he will be going places.
The leading dancer in the Royal Theatre - and one of the foremost artists in the world - is indisputably Thomas Lund. During the Festival, however, the crushing workload he has undertaken over the last two years caught up with him. Mr. Lund led the team of dancers who appear on the aforesaid DVD, and worked with its producers every step of the way. He acts as ballet master for several of the ballets. He teaches Bournonville classes to the company. Alongside the indefatigable Gudrun Bojesen, with whom he has developed over the years a very close collaboration, he gives master classes round the world. And he has been dancing leading roles in virtually every ballet. It is too, too much, and very wearing. Mr. Lund seemed to be in severe pain at several performances, and as James, exhaustion led him to throw all nuance to the winds in his dance, while in the mime scenes he "collapsed", as it were, into frenzied and sometimes crudely naturalistic gesture. Might one dare to suggest that for the next two months, he chill out with a Daiquiri, and do nothing but watch clouds scudding across the sky?
Amongst the teenagers, and without wishing to be unfair to other lads and lasses whom one saw less of during the Festival (in a troupe that is ninety-man strong, eight days is far too short a time to appreciate everyone), Sebastian Kloborg-Andersen and Ulrik Birkkjaer appear to have a real potential as Bournonville dancers. Tim Matiakis, a new soloist from Sweden, is an extremely cleanly dancer, who has been working hard to master the épaulement; the hang-over from his earlier training is that neither the shedding of the eyelight, nor the head itself, follow through as an extension of the spine, but are kept rigidly fixed. If he can sort that out and simply let the head to sway like the proverbial flower in the wind, his line will, I dare say, improve overnight.
Like Thomas Lund, Matiakis is not very tall. But he can dance! It is an excellent thing that in this theatre, Management will allow people who can dance to go out there and do it, rather than establishing a fixed "fashion and beauty standard", that excludes most of the dancing human race.
Keeping one's feet on the ground
Although this writer is notoriously a Bournonville-freak, I do try to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
Apart from Napoli, La Sylphide and A Folk Tale, and some beautiful divertissements such as La Ventana, I remain somewhat dubious about the subject-matter Bournonville appears to have preferred for his works. Why Bournonville declined to treat Greek tragedy or Sheakespeare's plays, as he was possessed of both the knowledge and the technical skills to do so, why he chose to discard Noverre's instructions on the necessary seriousness of ballet libretti, is a mystery. One can quite see how, in the 1860s and 70s, some young and clever men of the ballet may have become fairly impatient with Bournonville's fifty-year monopoly over the Royal Theatre.
During the Festival, with the exception of Napoli, I cannot say that I found any of the productions absolutely outstanding, neither in the scenography, nor in the mime, nor was all of the dancing entirely up to scratch. This may be a strictly personal view, but A Folk Tale is not given a serious enough treatment, and I hate it that the Trolls are become comic-strip figures. What an awful pounding din, the Ball of the Trolls in Act II! And Kenneth Greve as Junker Ove, wandering cluelessly about, having lost his Prince Siegfried costume...
The new production by Nikolai Huebbe of La Sylphide does not work: the sets are sprightly as a supermarket aisle, the lighting almost fluorescent, and he seems to have everyone rushing about on fast-forward. The mime scenes are hectic, and incomprehensible to boot. Nikolai Huebbe is now 37 or so, and left the Royal Theatre at age 22 to dance with NYCB. In other words, he has dwelt in the temple of Balanchine, whose style and technique are radically opposed to Bournonville, for his entire adult life.
It so happens that I saw Mr. Huebbe dancing the Bournonville roles when he was a lad. At the time, he was praised for what were called "space-devouring" innovations: disregarding the "unnecessary" fine points, he would steamroller his way through the small, the medium and the large steps. That may go down a treat in Cowboy Land, but it ain't Bournonville, and I wish he would refrain from instructing the Danish artists to dance the way he did. Frankly, I hardly recognised the Sylphide - it has all become a blotchy mess of primary colours.
As for Lloyd Riggins' new production of La Kermesse à Bruges, the sets and costumes recall, no doubt deliberately, Pina Bausch, and when one looks pig-ugly, as ones does so attired, it does not help situate one in the appropriate time and place.
Nevertheless, I believe that Management was right to ask Messrs. Huebbe and Riggins to try their hand at instructing a ballet. Better now, than wait till they turn seventy! For those ballets to work though, we must get back to lending the greatest attention both to the mime, and to the shading of the steps. The Devil is in the details, and too many details have gone to the devil.
When all is said and done though, on no account can the dance world do without these ballets. They remain very fine pieces of theatre, and a living education in how to integrate the mime with the dance. If the ballets tend to be somewhat less persuasive now than thirty years ago, there may be two, rather simple reasons: first, the Theatre has been very unstable, with five ballet masters in ten years, until Frank Andersen returned in 2002. Secondly, the character artists, with the notable exception of Kirsten Simone, Poul-Erik Hesselkilde, Flemming Ryberg and Jette Buchwald, are still too inexperienced in the mime roles.
Bournonville and Music
Finally, one must point to the major contribution by two musicologists, Ole Noerlyng, and Knud Arne Juergensen, Curator of the Music Department of the Royal Library, both of whom are passionately devoted to the dance. In a recent interview, Mr. Juergensen has spoken of Bournonville's musicality in a way that one feels should be reproduced here.
"During my music studies, I played for ballet classes... and that led to my interest in ballet. The musicality has always been my main occupation. I see ballet through my ears. Like a singer, Bournonville's choreography sings. When dancers master the correct way of breathing, it gives them a tremendous look of ease. You must find the natural breath of the body, by which I mean more than just filling the lungs with air. It means putting breath into your whole body, like a wind instrument (...) Bournonville's choreography is like chamber music, because the body has inner lines of melody....."
Juergensen reports a conversation he had with Vera Volkova who said, "'See how the footwork breathes. If the feet don't breathe, then the whole body is blocked.' As a foreigner, Vera had noticed that this is a unique thing to the Bournonville school".
It was when classifying scores transferred from the Royal Theatre to the Royal Library, that Juergensen decided to devote himself to the ballet. "It was a gift from heaven. There I sat with the complete collection of Bournonville's annotated scores (where) ... he wrote his choreography and revised it. You can see in the manuscript score the process of actually creating the choreography. It's the closest we will ever get to being in Bournonville's workshop."
Amongst the recently-discovered essays on music by Bournonville himself, is a scholarly analysis of opera and singspiel in Denmark from 1770 to 1840. He sang, and played violin, not only for class, but in string quartets.
Holding aloft the musical flame is one of the most troupe's most interesting individuals, Martin Stauning, who been studying composition with Ole Noerlyng. Whilst dancing full-time and acting as chairman of the dancer's union, the 23 year old lad has written two string quartets and a concerto for thirteen instruments.
Lettres sur la Danse et la Chorégraphie
New research is ongoing, and amongst the essays that I believe have not yet been reprinted, are Bournonville's Lettres sur la Danse et la Chorégraphie. These were penned for the Paris weekly, "l'Europe Artiste", published between 8th July and 26th August 1860, and straightaway reprinted in Italy.
Juergensen describes the Lettres, that I have not yet read, as Bournonville's "most detailed exploration of the historical, artistic and socio-political aspects of dance as an art form, in a wider European perspective." A number of other essays are not yet translated into other languages, notably "The Nature of our Theatre", and "Justice" (1876), that deal with the theatre as a unifying institution for the nation.
Only recently, moreover, has it been established, by checking against his diary entries, that a series of anonymous articles published throughout Europe and dealing with a diversity of political and social themes, were actually penned by Bournonville. One should recall here that he was a reformer, who described himself as a follower of Lafayette "the moment I cross Denmark's borders". It was he who instituted at the Royal Theatre - probably the first to do so in Europe - proper indefinite-term contracts for the dancers, and a lifelong pension for those who were injured or too old to dance.
Bournonville wrote that "irony is not synonymous with absurdity, derision or bitterness, but is (...) that addition of spirits to wine that becomes the sickly sweetness of the grape..."
Well, his sense of irony seems to have rubbed off on the dancers. M. Cédric Lambrette, who has been with the troupe for three years, told the press about his studies at the Paris Opera School, then led by a not-unknown buxom blonde,
"Later on, I auditioned in Paris, with the crazy blonde woman screaming at me, and they said yes, and for me it was part of that contract I signed as a little kid. This time, it was too far for my father to come and pick me up!"
I shall never look at M. Lambrette's dancing in the same way again.
The new Opera House
On January 15th 2005 a new Opera House was inaugurated at Copenhagen, described as a "gift to the nation" by ninety-year old shipping magnate Maersk McKinney Moeller. Photographs and floor plans can be seen at http://www.arcspace.com/architects/larsen/Opera/.
The very rich and/or the very powerful seem to crave to leave a monument, some would say a mausoleum, to art.
Although the Opera Bastille looks a low-cost chicken-hutch compared to the new Royal Theatre, the latter being built of the finest materials and to the highest specifications, the truth remains that day-to-day operating costs stagger the imagination.
I for one, would rather see the Royal Theatre take art to the people, and spend the money on touring. For financial reasons, it is virtually impossible at the present time for the Royal Theatre to take its full troupe on tour, while building costs for the new Opera - excluding overheads - mounted up to just under three billion crowns.
Before turning over the first lump of sod, Maersk McKinney Moeller might have done well to read Pushkin.
I have built a monument to myself
Not wrought by human hand. Well-trodden
By the people, its path shall ne'er be overgrown,
And it shall tower above Alexander's column.
I shall not wholly die. In my sacred lyre
Will my soul outlive dust and all corruption,
And my praise shall sound so long as there yet live
a single poet beneath the moon.
Throughout all Russia shall my fame ring out,
Her countless tongues shall breathe my name:
The Slavs' proud heir, the Finn,
The untamed Tungus and the Kalmyk, child of the steppes.
To the people long shall I be dear,
For my lyre has stirred noble thoughts,
Sung Freedom in this cruel age
And craved mercy for the fallen.
Hear, O Muse, thy God's command;
Fear no insult, crave no golden band,
Receive flattery and slander alike,
And leave off arguing with fools.
Like Pushkin's monument, I rather suspect the Bournonville Schools too will remain, being as they are an expression of the words,
For my lyre has stirred noble thoughts,
Sung Freedom in this cruel age
And craved mercy for the fallen.