“Abdallah” is the stepchild of the Bournonville repertoire. Forgotten for more than 100 years, it was only rediscovered by pure accident when Bruce Marks acquired Bournonville’s own manuscript at an auction and few years later took on the demanding task of recreating “Abdallah,” together with his wife, the late Toni Lander and Flemming Ryberg, for the Salt Lake Ballet, which he led at that time. “Abdallah” finally came home to Copenhagen in 1986 and has tried to become a full member of the Bournonville family ever since.
There is a lot to admire in “Abdallah”. The story is a Persian version of Napoli (indeed “Napoli” III act is partly lifted from “Abdallah”), there is lot of stage magic, not least the sudden appearance of a castle and the effect where “Abdallah” curses his mother in law, causing her to disappear into the ground. But to leave the Christian setting is clearly uncomfortable for Bournonville, and he is ill at ease in Basra, where the piece is set. Although he includes all the stereotypical 19th century views on the Orient, he cannot embrace them. You feel Bournonville’s own confusion regarding the Muslim practices.
Viewed as a reconstruction, “Abdallah” is probably the best of the attempts to resurrect a long lost Bournonville ballet. Ryberg and Lander knew their stuff, the décor is strikingly beautiful and effective and one aspect that would have made “Abdallah” less popular in 19th century Copenhagen—that it contained a great deal of dancing—should recommend it to a modern audience. But still after 20 years “Abdallah” has not yet come to life in performance, which is so vital for a Bournonville classic. It has no real life of its own but seems to imitate other Bournonville pieces.
For the festival, “Abdallah” had clearly been marked as the performance where less featured dancers could get their share of the action, so no Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojesen (the current first cast), no Silja Schandorff or Gitte Lindstrøm as the Harem’s temptation Palmyra, but instead soloists Morten Eggert and Amy Watson danced the leading couple—shoemaker Abdallah and his sweetheart Irma—with Haley Henderson as Palmyra. The only star present was Kirsten Simone, reprising the role she has danced since the 1983 premiere as Irma’s mother, the widow Fatma, one of Bournonville’s formidable mothers in law.
Morten Eggert is a sturdy demi-caractère dancer with a fine technique, dramatic flair and few opportunities to show them in the current repertoire. Like Thomas Lund he is little catered for outside Bournonville and instead of moving forward he is standing still career wise. He cut a fine figure as Abdallah without turning him into the wimpy fool. American Amy Watson has had many opportunities over the last seasons. A striking but somewhat imprecise dancer, she is constantly used in a broad repertoire. As Irma she may lack the delicacy and lightness that is Gudrun Bojesen's main attraction in the part, but Watson is a skilled actress and made her character vibrant and alive. Haley Henderson must be the tallest female dancer in the company. She danced cleanly without hinting at any personality. In the supporting roles, Diana Cuni, a small dancer who covers an enormous amount of space, showed why she could have been an obvious choice as Irma. Camilla Ruelykke Holst, who has hardly had a featured part before this week, showed promise in two different roles, and Peter Bo Bendixen used his charisma for the part of Sheik Ismael, the fleeing ruler who is helped to safety by Abdallah and grants him a magic candlestick for thanks.
The performance shows that the company is strong and has several dancers who can handle featured roles. It is difficult to pinpoint really outstanding talents, but the company is growing in strength and seems to have found the formula on how to get “the foreigners,” as they were called at the preceding Bournonville school, into an acceptable Bournonville corps.
by Martin Mydtskov Rönne: