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June 1, 2011

Danish style

We've said goodbye -- too soon -- to the Royal Danish Ballet, which visited Orange County, Calif., last week on the first stop of a U.S. tour. They brought two nights of Nordic mixed-repertory and four performances of the latest upgrade to August Bournonville's 1842 masterpiece, "Napoli."

The Danes could never overstay their welcome.

The new "Napoli," staged in 2009 by artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe and ballet master Sorella Englund (once a treasured ballerina and still an extraordinary character dancer), was danced with exquisite clarity, unmatched footwork and that celebrated Danish generosity of spirit. But it wasn't all gushingly great. This new "Napoli" has been teleported to the 1950s, with new mime characters, and a redone act two, which has a specially commissioned score. It had a severe case of multiple personality disorder -- a different one for each act. Finnish choreographer Jorma Uotinen's "Earth" (2005) was a kinetically unimaginative caveman tribute. And that led me to this question: Where were the women? Give me your ballerinas. Yes, the Royal Danish Ballet is renowned for its superlative male dancers, personified by Erik Bruhn and Hübbe, to name just two. But if, as Hubbe's program letter stated, this U.S. tour was about demonstrating "the company's strong contemporary artistic profile," then there was no reason for pandering. Strong female dancers have a place in contemporary ballet, one would hope.

And yet, I feel mostly effusive. This company gives you dancing, at a time when Western classical ballet is often percussive gymnastics. When you see the real thing, it literally catches your breath. With an impressive opera house operation of school, company, production facilities, and -- very important -- unbroken lineage from one generation to the next all working together, certain artistic traditions live on -- musicality, precision, the artists' palpable joy in being onstage. Even choreographic tinkering can't spoil that. The Danes remain committed to the myriad rhythmic and spatial possibilities of the body, from the grandest steps to the most detailed. If you go, pay close attention, just in case you're not accustomed to the subtleties of motion and accent at which these dancers excel. But that's not a warning, just a tip. It's only a pleasure to watch them.

After leaving the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (recently renamed because having the name "Segerstrom" on two of the four public performance spaces wasn't enough....guess that's for another blog post), the company moved on to Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall through June 4; then it's off to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., June 7-12; and finally New York's Lincoln Center from June 14-19. The programs vary and include other Bournonville delights, "La Sylphide" and "A Folk Tale."

June 1, 2011 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)

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