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The Royal Danish Ballet at the Paris Opera

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 19 February 1999 -On their first visit to the Palais Garnier in thirty years, the Royal Danish Ballet opened their programme with Le Conservatoire (choreography Bournonville), one of the most treasured works in their repertoire.

Auguste Bournonville(director 1840-1877), often referred to as a Frenchman by the French, but claimed as a Dane by the Danish, was actually the son of a French dancer, but born in Copenhagen. He was trained in France, and while the nobility and elegance of the French school formed the basis of his teaching, he added a certain "joie de vivre" to his choreography, believing dance to be the expression of the joy and happiness of life.

The Bournonville style is graceful, harmonious and gay, with great importance given to mime and the expression conveyed by both body and gestures.

One of the greatest choreographers of the Romantic Age, he drew on reminiscences from his student days in Paris with August Vestris in the 1820's for the Conservatoire. We watch a dancing lesson of young students at the Paris conservatoire, a typical class, enlivened by demonstrations by Vestris and Bournonville himself.

The joyous dancing of both company and soloists proved that Bournonville's works are not museum pieces but living art, and set the evening off to a fine start.

Aware that Bournonville is delightful but limiting, it was therefore a good idea to then bring in three contemporary choreographers to show that if the dancers have their roots, and hence their identity, solidly implanted in their unique tradition, they also have their heads and shoulders in the next century.

The Wish (choreography Stanton Welch) was an expressive pas de deux, beautifully interpreted by Kenneth Greve and Gitte Lindstrom. An oasis of depth in an evening of bubbles, it expressed something of the human soul in a way none of the others did. It justified classical dance in the 21st century.

Welch, resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet is creating a new, more important work for the Danish company in May; 1999 - Spirits (music Benjamin Britten).

In contrast, I found the choreography and interpretation of the other pas de deux disappointing. 1963 - Yesterday (choreography John Neumeier), created for the 250th anniversary of the company to four of the Beatles tunes was original and light-hearted, but despite Neumeier's long association with the troupe, the interpreters, Peter Bo Bendixen and Silja Schandorff (exquisite as the little Sylphide) did not convince.

Caroline Cavallo and Johan Kobborg are both fine classical dancers, but both (despite Cavallo's training at the School of American Ballet) lacked the sparkle and zest to dance Zakouski, a rather colourless work created by Peter Martins for New York City Ballet.

Royal Danish Ballet

Maurice Béjart came to stage Gaité parisienne, a work which evokes his own experience in Paris. He mingles humour with melancholy, and dreams with fantasy in his own particular brand of musical comedy.

The ballet is situated at the Palais Garnier, and is truffled with illusions to other works in the Paris Opera repertoire. It is peopled by Offenbach and many other characters including King Louis of Bavaria, Napoleon III, and Béjart's own teacher, the authoritarian Madame Rousanne.

A divertissement created over twenty years ago for his glorious "Ballet du XX century" (disbanded in 1987), all comparisons should be avoided, but the Danish troupe danced the piece with vitality, freshness and charm. Given the excellence of the male dancers in this work, I was somewhat surprised by Mr. Béjart's comments that the troupe had to seriously rethink their way of working.

At a press conference, Mr. Béjart said that the dancing of the Royal Danish Ballet no longer corresponded to today, adding, "They need shaking up a bit".

Perhaps he should apply these words to his present troupe, "Béjart Ballet Lausanne", for the last time I saw them, they were but a shadow of his former company.

The Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Paris was admirably conducted by Graham Bond.

Photo : The Royal Danish Ballet - Mogens Boesen, Silja Schandorff, Krystof Novogrodzki
Credit : Martin Mydtskov Rønne

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