Magazine article The Spectator

Danish Treats

Magazine article The Spectator

Danish Treats

Article excerpt

Dance

Bournonville 2000 (Royal Theatre, Copenhagen)

Danish treats

Giannandrea Poesio

The scholarly preoccupation with authenticity that underscores contemporary ballet has had a considerable effect on performance tradition. In the search for a hypothetical 'original' text many productions have turned into sterile stagings destined to be appreciated by only a few highbrow balletomanes. And in the name of a much-idealised rediscovery of an allegedly long-forgotten tradition all sorts of awkward and theatrically untenable choreographic hybrids have been created.

It is rather reassuring, therefore, to discover that things are not the same everywhere. Named after the 19th-century French ballet master Auguste Bournonville (who is credited with the creation of what is universally acknowledged as the Danish ballet style), the Boumonville 2000 festival in Copenhagen has clearly demonstrated that the ballet tradition can be kept alive without any kind of academic pretension.

As Bournonville consultant Dinna Bjorn, artistic director of the Norwegian ballet, and the eminent dance scholar Erik Aschengreen stated at the end of an enlightening lecture-demonstration, the only way to dispel the risk of fossilisation is to make the most of what survived of the original productions, and even to be ready to retouch when necessary in order to give them up-to-date immediacy and accessibility (within certain stylistic parameters). After all, the survival of most 19th-century ballets depended greatly on the continuous tinkering they were subjected to throughout the years.

Indeed, such an intentionally fuss-free approach has not pleased everyone. Bjorn's new choreography for the second act of the 1842 ballet Napoli has attracted some criticism for its apparent lack of stylistic consistency with the rest of the work. Although the new act is nothing special, it still looks better than the one in the previous production, currently available on video, which was not authentic anyway. What intrigued me was the Romantic quality of the new choreography, which derives from a clever use of movement conventionally associated with the Romantic ballet style - namely smoothly convoluted, canon sequences and from some more or less explicit visual references to well-known examples of Romantic ballet iconography. …

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