One of the most welcome benefits of the 3rd Bournonville Festival was revealed today at the small historic Court Theatre: a DVD with the full Bournonville Schools, the training system compiled by the great early 19th century balletmaster Hans Beck and used as the sole training system for the RDB until the 1930s. This production, filmed by former RDB Dancer Ulrik Wivel and masterminded by Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter, is based on the important notation done by Kirsten Ralov in the 1970s. The DVD is constructed so teachers worldwide can identify and use the material and this will help Bournonville students in Denmark and elsewhere. The DVD stars dancers such as Mads Blangstrup, Thomas Lund, Gudrun Bojesen, Caroline Cavallo and others. The dancers have used more than four weeks of their holidays on this production. That is the kind of dedication leading Danish dancers have for their heritage, and none is showing it more than Thomas Lund. He has really put himself in the service of the old master and presents Bournonville at every opportunity, such as dancing at a Post Office to mark the release of a Bournonville stamp. With a dedication like that and an affinity for the style, it is little wonder that Thomas Lund is the poster dancer for this festival. He dances a broader Bournonville repertoire than any other RDB dancer and he is assigned the two major male Bournonville parts, James in “La Sylphide” (the festival will also show Mads Blangstrup in the role) and Gennaro in “Napoli”.
It is only fair that this festival should be Thomas Lund’s festival, but, based on tonight’s performance of “Napoli”, I cannot help wonder whether it would not have been better to use his gifts in some of the other Bournonville ballets, where he truly shines, rather than cast him in the repertory’s two major parts, where he is cast against type. When Lund made his debut in “Napoli”—Bournonville’s tribute to Naples and his most joyous surviving creation—a few years back, he already showed a deep understanding of the role and that has only become deeper. But he lacks the raw sex appeal, the dramatic looks and allure that are essential traits of Bournonville's Neopolitan fisherman-hero, and this makes his Gennaro an uphill climb. In act three, Lund is dwarfed by the taller soloists. The height is not the issue, as anyone who remembers Niels Kehlet's Gennaro will testify, but in this production, filled to the brim with action, it is essential for Gennaro to command the stage. Lund has almost become a Bournonville dancer by default and he is underutilised in the rest of the repertoire. Since Johan Kobborg left there have been few ballets acquired for demi-caractere dancers, and in works like “Manon,” for example, Lund is relegated to dancing the leading beggar instead of letting him do an original take on a role like Lescaut. Misusing a dancer of so high a callbre is not good talent management and it may stop Lund’s development. Next year when, there we are, down to one Bournonville programme it could be a very dry year for Thomas Lund, unless his special gifts are taken better care of.
Lund’s Teresina was Tina Højlund, a dancer of high individuality who, like Lund, has been used too infrequently. What Højlund brings to Teresina is the ability to act like a real person and show real emotion as well as fine dancing.
In all it was an evening of fine dancing. Compared to the newly acquired “Kermesse” of yesterday it was great to see a ballet production that was really broken in and where the stage was full of life at every scene. The first act’s ballabile (a dance for six couples) was spot on, and third act’s Pas de Six was cast from the top, even having the luxury of Mads Blangstrup and Gudrun Bojesen in the smaller roles without solos. This cast in the Pas De six contradicts the common understanding that the Bournonville style is for smaller dancers; it actually looks better on taller ones. And it looks even better on stars. The cast included Gitte Lindstrøm, Caroline Cavallo and Andrew Bowman,but unfortunately lacked Silja Schandorff who had graced this cast with the final solo earlier in the period running up to festival, and that took some, but not all, from the result.
“Napoli” is still Bournonvile's signature piece and shows the company to great advantage. One area though is slipping in standards. “Napoli” needs at least six good male character dancers for Golfo, Peppo and Giacomo, the street singer, the marionette player and Fra Ambrosio. But save for Flemming Ryberg as Peppo, none of these parts were cast very well. The dancers assigned tried, but cannot reach the standard of Ryberg and former luminaries like Henning Kronstam, Niels Kehlet and Fredbjørn Bjørnsson, nor did they seem to be cast to type for their roles. The dancer doing the pivotal part of the monk looked more like a aging bonvivant than a Italian beggar monk and the dancer doing the marionette player did not even bother to use a balding pate beneath his wig. There is little humour tearing off the wig of a man with a full head of hair! And Niels Balle is simply too nice and timid a guy to do all the bad stuff that Golfo does. The more diabolical Peter Bo Bendixen would have been a welcome addition. As has been pointed out several times already during the festival, Bournonville is a combination of dance and mime, and if standards in the mime are slipping, that will have serious consequences for the ongoing tradition.
That it may not come to that was shown at the Court Theatre demonstration, where Morten Eggert, and especially Mads Blangstrup, showed how good they are in the miming department and how well they integrate mime, body acting and dance. But it is vital to develop the character dancers and reach the level that is presently only held by Ryberg and Jette Buchwald. It is sad that Sorella Englund and other great mime artists are no longer part of the company and it is vital to keep the bar up. As the Royal Danish Ballet is dancing very well, more focus on the mime is vital if the company is to regain its position as a major international troupe and the world’s leading story telling company. Tonight, “Napoli” showed that the goals are not that.