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The Royal Danish Ballet: The Lesson, La Sylphide

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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
La Sylphide

At the
David H. Koch Theater

Press: Keith Sherman and Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 17, 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 Mads Blangstrup as The ballet master, Alexandra Lo Sardo as The student, Mette Bodtcher as The pianist, Benita Bunger as The shadow.

Once again (this ballet was also reviewed on the 14th), I had to sit through this very unsettling ballet, about a ballet teacher who strangles his student in erotic delight! Just because it’s an Ionesco play, and just because Flemming Flindt decided to put it to music and dance, doesn’t mean that Royal Danish Ballet had to inflict New York audiences with this ballet on most of its six-day performances. We wanted to see the Company in its renowned splendor, not sit and cringe for a half hour or more, or so it seemed. Tonight, to make matters worse, Mads Blangstrup, a Principal with the Company, was even more theatrical and fine-tuned in characterized depravity, as he arrived on scene, in more than creepy demeanor, predatory from his first glance toward Alexandra Lo Sardo, the doomed student. Once again, Ms. Lo Sardo was the fluttering ingénue, but with even more vulnerability in the presence of Mr. Blangstrup.

Mette Bodtcher, again in the role of the pianist, was still in focused and frenetic stride, as she deliberately walked in angular gait, setting up, then “cleaning up”, the ballet master’s space. The dark-curtained windows were even more mesmerizing tonight, as the ballet had a now all too familiar feel. During the choking scene, Mr. Blangstrup created an extended erotic ripple throughout his body, adjusting his clothes (he had already removed a sweater and loosened his collar, prior to the final scene), and all of this was more than a ballet audience would want, to put it mildly. This ballet thriller should be shelved as entirely inappropriate for touring repertory.

La Sylphide (1836): Choreography by August Bournonville, Music by Herman Severin Lovenskiold, Set design and costumes by Mikael Melbye, Lighting design by Jorn Melin, Staging by Nikolaj Hübbe and Anne Marie Vessel Schluter, Performed by Gudrun Bojesen as La Sylphide, Jette Buchwald as Anna, a tenant, Ulrikk Birkkjaer as James, her son, Camilla Ruelykke Holst as Effy, her niece, Alba Nadal as Nancy, Effy’s friend, Nicolai Hansen as Gurn, a young farmer, Sorella Englund as Madge, a witch, Gregory Dean, Fernando Mora as Two farm hands, Hilary Guswiler as Leading Sylph.

Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for, seeing the Royal Danish Ballet in Bournonville’s renowned La Sylphide. This is a ballet that’s been staged by American Ballet Theater to great success, but I was anxious to see it now, and here, with this Company. And, I was not at all disappointed. The entire production was elegant, dramatic, and very refined. Gudrun Bojesen was La Sylphide, and her tiny jumps, into the Scottish homestead, up the chimney, and all about the forest, were enchanting and endearing. Ulrik Birkkjaer, as James, who rejects his fiancée, Effy (Camilla Ruelykke Holst), for romance with a sylph, is a Principal with the Company, who has Guest Artist appeal. Ms. Bojesen is also a Principal, with stunning star quality throughout. Their pas de deux, in the cottage and again in the forest, especially as the Sylphide’s wings begin to wither from the poisoned scarf (in this case, this classical ballet knows how to elevate tragedy with sensuality, in contrast to the previous work), is rapturous and riveting.

Sorella Englund, listed as a “Character Dancer”, is Madge the Witch, who concocts the poison brew that drenches the scarf in her cauldron, out of revenge for James’ inconsideration, when she crashes his engagement party. Ms. Englund exudes all the evil energy of the role, with exceptional theatricality. Hilary Guswiler, in the Royal Danish Ballet Corps, is the lead sylph, often airborne, like Ms. Bojesen, and always fascinating. The female Corps, as the sylphs, was outstanding, glowing within the glade with scintillating allure. Mikael Melbye’s sets and costumes were transporting, especially the tutus of the sylphides. The costumes of the party revelers, in the cottage and in the wedding procession (Effy forgets about James and marries Gurn, a farmer, [Nicolai Hansen], while the guests are still around), are colorful and oh, so Scottish. But the image that stayed with me hours later was Gudrun Bojesen, as one of the finest Sylphides I’ve ever seen, so light on her feet, reaching back her torso and head to almost touch her pointe shoes, so effervescent. Her face was porcelain, as was her physique.

I hope the Royal Danish Ballet returns soon, but with an all Bournonville repertory, like La Sylphide and Napoli. There are many others to choose from, like The Flower Festival in Genzano. In fact, Le Conservatoire sounds so appealing, compared to tonight’s first work, which is also set in a dance studio. Artistic Director, Nikolaj Hübbe would do well to remember how joyful his Farewell performance was on this very stage in 2008. Tonight’s La Sylphide, and Napoli Act III on the 14th, exemplified the joy this talented Company can exude. Kudos to Conductor, Henrik Vagn Christensen, and New York City Opera Orchestra. And, kudos to August Bournonville.

The Cast of Royal Danish Ballet
in Bournonville's "La Sylphide"
Courtesy of Royal Danish Ballet

The Cast of Royal Danish Ballet
in Bournonville's "La Sylphide"
Courtesy of Royal Danish Ballet

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