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The Royal Danish Ballet: The Lesson, Bournonville Variations, Lost on Slow, Napoli - Act III
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The Royal Danish Ballet: The Lesson, Bournonville Variations, Lost on Slow, Napoli - Act III

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The Royal Danish Ballet
(Royal Danish Ballet Website)

Nikolaj Hübbe, Artistic Director
Silja Schandorff, Assoc. Artistic Director
Henrik Sten Petersen, Admin. Director

Conductor: Henrik Vagn Christensen
New York City Opera Orchestra

The Lesson
Bournonville Variations
Lost on Slow
Napoli – Act III

At the
David H. Koch Theater

Press: Keith Sherman and Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 14, 2011

The Lesson (1964): Choreography by Flemming Flindt, Music by Georges Delerue, Settings and costumes by Daydé, Lighting design by Jorn Melin, Staging by Vivi Flindt and Anne Marie Vessel Schluter, Performed by Johan Kobborg as The ballet master, Alexandra Lo Sardo as The student, Mette Bodtcher as The pianist, Benita Bunger as The shadow.

As an Opening Night piece, for a much anticipated visit from Royal Danish Ballet, Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson was ill-conceived. This is a ghoulish and gruesome ballet, based on an Ionesco play, about a ballet “master”, rather a teacher, who achieves erotic delight in torturing a young female dance student with increasingly difficult turns and leaps, about a spartan, dreary dance studio, before he chokes her to death. Yes, that’s the piece that Nikolaj Hübbe chose for his return to New York, as Artistic Director of this Company, on the same stage where he had so eloquently retired as a dancer with New York City Ballet in 2008. To make matters worse, Mr. Hübbe did not greet his New York fans from the stage, at any point tonight, but rather just mingled with a few from his rear audience seat. This six-day run got off to a disappointing start.

As the Ballet Master, Johan Kobborg, a renowned principal with the Royal Ballet, and a Guest Artist here, seemed uncomfortable in the role of a ballet coach about to murder his student. He put Alexandra Lo Sardo, an ingénue Soloist with the Company, through her paces, staring at her stiff pointe shoes in obsessive ways. Ms. Lo Sardo became more and more threatened by the ballet master’s aggressive behavior, after he arrived on scene in shy, creepy demeanor, and the climactic crime was inevitable throughout. The one performer who caught my interest with her engrossing and dynamic performance was Mette Bodtcher, as the pianist, who coldly enables the ballet master’s atrocity, but seems threatened as well, almost imprisoned in the space. I wondered if there was more to her relationship with the teacher than met the eye. Her angular, deliberate pace matched the eerie dissonance of Georges Delerue’s score. The worst moment, for me, was knowing I’d be sitting though this work again in the second program, on the 17th. Bernard Daydé’s costumes and sets were entirely appropriate to this sad ballet.

Bournonville Variations (2010): Choreography: From the Bournonville School, collected by Hans Beck, Music by Martin Akerwall, from the Bournonville School, Violin soloist: Kurt Nikkanen, Projections/paintings by Helmut Schober, Costumes by Annette Norgaard, Lighting design by Anders Poll, Idea, arrangement, staging by Thomas Lund and Nikolaj Hübbe, Performed by a male ensemble.

The mood of the evening somewhat picked up during this dimly lit work for an all-male ensemble. Twelve dancers, in grey leotards, against a smoky stage, perform the daily Bournonville Classes that have been used in some form since the 1890’s for Royal Danish Ballet School preparation, teaching technical strength and precision. One class was held, Monday-Saturday, with a different styling practiced each time. Today, the styling is less rigid, but this work was a good introduction to Bournonville, although it could have been better. As tonight was Opening Night of the Royal Danish series, again, Mr. Hübbe could have addressed the audience afore-hand, and thoughtfully explained his program, hopefully one without the inclusion of The Lesson.

Some of the daily Bournonville Variations were “Petit Allegro”, “March-solo”, “Allegro Enchainement”, and “Male solo”. Hans Beck “collected” these Variations, when he became Artistic Director, in the 1890’s, and Thomas Lund and Mr. Hübbe created the “idea” for this presentation. The men dance with no barre, occasionally in Annette Norgaard’s black leather-like kilts, with Anders Poll’s shifting colored lights and intense visual macho. Yet, the entire effect was almost as unpleasant as the previous work, although nobody was strangled. At this point, I wondered what had become of Mr. Hübbe, who had chosen to leave this stage as an American Cowboy in Western Symphony. Kurt Nikkanen’s violin solo, within Martin Akerwall’s structured score, was a high point.

Lost on Slow (2008): Choreography by Jorma Elo, Music by Vivaldi (from various Violin Concerti), Violin soloist: Yevgenia Strenger, Costumes by Annette Norgaard, Lighting design by Thomas Bek Jensen, Staging by Jorma Elo and Nancy Euverink, Performed by J’aime Crandall, Alba Nadal, Amy Watson, Jean-Lucien Massot, Tim Matiakis, Fernando Mora.

To make matters yet worse, Jorma Elo’s Lost On Slow was one more ill-conceived addition to this Opening Night program, with fantastic Vivaldi music and bizarre choreography, to say the least. Dancers used staccato motion all too frequently, arms up, spins, muscular spasms, kicks, with no chemistry whatsoever. At this point I wished La Sylphide were tonight, instead of the 17th. Thomas Bek Jensen’s lighting and Annette Norgaard’s costumes were the visually transfixing high point of this segment. The women’s tutus and men’s loose costumes literally glowed like gold. If only the dancing had been half as glittering.

Napoli – Act III (1842): Choreography by August Bournonville, Sorella Englund, Nikolaj Hübbe, Music by Edvard Helsted, HS Paulli, HC Lumbye, Set design and costumes by Maja Ravn, Lighting design by Mikki Kunttu, Staging by Nikolaj Hübbe and Sorella Englund, Performed by Susanne Grinder as Teresina, Ulrik Birkkjaer as Gennaro, and the Company.

The audience breathed a palpable sigh of relief, as the curtain rose to a delightful Italian courtyard, with the children from the Company across a bridge, as a ballet ensued with true Bournonville bravura. Susanne Grinder was Teresina, and Ulrik Birkkjaer was Gennaro, with enchanting results. Their scintillating pas de deux was followed by Laure Dougy and Charles Anderson’s lively tarantella, a pas de six, a dance for three ladies, and seven solos. A breath of fresh air was enjoyed by all. At one point, the scene and costumes, by Maja Ravn, looked like Italian Rococco, a joy for the senses. I finally experienced what I’d been anticipating all evening, the thrilling Bournonville dance tradition as it’s performed today by a talented, refined Company. And, also finally, the New York City Opera Orchestra was able to play luscious music, under the direction of Conductor, Henrik Vagn Christensen.

In this vibrant third act of a ballet I’d love to see in its entirety, there was chemistry exploding, with the entire stage grinning, embracing, and leaping with outstretched arms, in billowing peasant costumes that captivated the imagination. At one point, I was dumbfounded that the previous three works had been chosen for this classical ballet company, as it was being introduced to New York balletomanes. Why such a dour mood for over an hour, when we could have had more of this? The Royal Danish Ballet dancers are divided into Principals, Soloists, Character Dancers, Corps de ballet, and Apprentices. Yet, in Napoli, every dancer seemed a “character” dancer, with ebullient attitude and artistic stage presence. The lyrical phrasing matched the buoyant score by three composers, and, since I’m not familiar with this ballet, I wasn’t distracted by Mr. Hübbe and Ms. Englund’s staging. After all, this ballet premiered in 1842.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hübbe did not even take a bow with his Company. The curtain seemed to fall too early, and the applause did not last long enough for additional curtains, or maybe it was just an awkward ending to a mostly awkward Opening Night.

The Cast of Royal Danish Ballet
in Bournonville's "Napoli" Act III
Courtesy of Royal Danish Ballet

The Cast of Royal Danish Ballet
in Bournonville's "Napoli" Act III
Courtesy of Royal Danish Ballet

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at