Neoclassicism in Copenhagen

Royal Danish Ballet
"Schumann's 2nd Symphony" (Uwe Scholtz) and "Etudes" (Harald Lander)
Det Kongelige Teater
Copenhagen, Denmark
October 21, 2006

by Eva Kistrup
copyright 2006 by Eva Kistrup

Halfway through Uwe Scholtz "Schumann's 2nd Symphony," I wished someone had written a manual on how to choreograph a neo-classical ballet. It is not the first time I have had that wish but it is seldom that the need for a manual has been so acute. One might add that the manual should be based on the Balanchine repertoire, and it was clear that Scholtz had seen some Balanchine work. He is even quoted in the programme as wishing that the work be viewed as a mixture of Cranko and Balanchine. One can see what he means. Scholtz had a very clumsy copy of the brilliant moment in "Serenade" where the “angel” girl is standing in a high arabesque and is turned by her kneeling partner. The difference is that in "Serenade," the mechanics are hidden by the long skirt, whereas in "Schumann" it is done with the tricot-clad leg totally visible to the audience and thereby lacks the mystique on how this movement is physically possible. Trust Scholtz to expose the magician's tricks without being able to make any of his own.

It is not the lack of steps and difficulties that disqualifies the Scholtz ballet. On the contrary, there is an abundance of steps and lifts, not only for the four principals but also for the corps of nine couples. But the ballet is lacking in structure and coherence. The steps do not follow the music and you cannot help wondering, Why bother? Let me give a few examples, because I do not like to be so negative without actually proving my point. At one point in the ballet, the lead couple, danced by the ever-wonderful Silja Schandorff and Kenneth Greve, have just finished a section, and the choreographer wants the ballerina to be alone on the stage. Scholtz then has the corps dancers rush over the stage including one extra girl whom Kenneth Greve partners off the stage only to return two seconds later. So why remove him in the first place? During a recurring solo motif to a fast beat, Scholtz wants the ballerina to hold a high balance. In order to do that she needs to slow down, so while the upbeat tempo continues the ballerina is dancing to a totally different rhythm. In addition, in the first movement there is absolutely no coherence between the movements of soloists and corps. We can accept a certain amount of syncopation, but this is just messy and pointless. The adagio, which is the most decent part of the ballet, is done as a double pas de deux for the soloists—Schandorff/Greve and Izabela Sokolowska/Mads Blangstrup—but there is no interaction between the two couples. Then why do a double pas de deux?

A good neoclassical ballet creates an environment and logic of it own; this one only creates mess. I am sure someone will tell me that the work has merit by exercising the company, but how can there be any benefit from dancing a bad ballet? There is so much from the Balanchine repertoire and even other sources that could have been beneficial to the company. While exercise is a good thing, I prefer exercise taking place within the frames of a good ballet, where the purpose is more than exercise. One last comment on this sad subject. The costumes for the ladies are very unbecoming and the dog collar makes the girls look like the “no neck monsters” from Tennessee William's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Not unsurprisingly they are designed by the choreographer. Would anyone who understands ballet design a costume that destroys the neckline of the female dancer? At the second performance the ballet was danced more smoothly, and because the two ballerinas were of the same size (Caroline Cavallo instead of Silja Schandorff) it looked more harmonious, but was still a waste of effort.

"Schumann" is paired with ""Etudes"" to form an evening that is, quoting artistic director Frank Andersen in the programme, ”a display of pure joy of dancing.” Unfortunately, combining two ballets with the same agenda but of such different quality causes the audience to run out of energy before "Etudes" is done. "Etudes" has its own problem in living up to the neoclassical ideal. It is clear that Lander's understanding and interpretation of the Russian technique and style is somewhat lacking, most visible in the ballerina's solos. "Etudes" also has moments that no longer function, like the grande diagonal, which in the fifties was considered the most impressive part of the ballet. Today it can hardly draw an applause, which leaves the 32 dancers struggling to get up and leave the stage in total silence, but all in all, "Etudes" is still very effective. When last in repertoire two seasons ago, "Etudes" reached a level of the corps dancing I have not seen previously in my more than 25 years of following the company. The level of the male soloists was, I have to admit, very diverse in quality. On the one end, the brilliant Kenneth Greve, who ended up doing almost 90% of the total male soloists' content (the mazurka, the prince and everything in between) to rather bleak performances from the other principal male dancers at the other.

It must be said the "Etudes" is very difficult. The company has had many injuries, but it is a danger signal when Royal Danish Ballet cannot present at least two top notch male performances for the soloists. Even Thomas Lund and Mads Blangstrup were struggling to get through, and neither is scheduled for the current run. Tonight performances had a very strong and confident Gitte Lindstrøm as the ballerina. Kenneth Greve as the prince still produces the magic, but the male soloists were a mixed bag. In the first part Kristoffer Sakurai and newcomer Ulrik Birkjær danced the first pas the trois. For the rest of the performance Tim Matiakis danced the part, including the Mazurka, with gusto, speed and a wonderful energy, although lacking in soaring jumbs. Why he was omitted from the first pas the trois remains a mystery. It was also the case for the second performance. Matiakis is a very short dancer, but is not that much smaller than Gitte Lindstrøm. One gets the feeling that the company thinks that a small dancer in the pas de trios is more offensive than a bad dancer in the soli. In former times Niels Kehlet danced with tall ballerinas like Mette Hønningen with no problem. As in the recent "La Sylphide," Kristoffer Sakurai's poise and elegance had to work overtime to compensate for a limited technique, but you really need to deliver technically in "Etudes" to earn your place. Ulrik Birkjær took over from Sakurai at the second performance. Birkkjær's was not a bad debut and his technique is sound, so we can expect more fluency if he gets the chance to dance more performances.

Amy Watson had a shot at the principal female role. She made her entrance like a true ballerina, but had some difficulties with the choreography. Is a fourth ballerina really necessary for such a short run? They will have few enough performance as it is, and although Watson is a dancer with a bubbling personality on stage, she cannot really handle the big Danish ballerina role. There is a lot of talent in the company but not all of it is nurtured enough. In "Etudes", young Christina L. Olsen shone in everything she did. She has the making of a great neoclassical and classical dancer, but it is time that she gets some real parts in which she can develop. She can really create the pure joy of dancing and it would be a pity not to develop hers, and other significant talents.

First: Silja Schandorff, Kenneth Greve and the corps de ballet in "Schumann 2nd Symphony." Photo: Henrik Stenberg.
Second: Mads Blankstrup and Izabela Sokolowska in "Schuamann 2nd Symphony." Photo: Henrik Stenberg.
Third: Fernando Mora, Gudrun Bojesen and Kenneth Greve in "Etudes." Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne.
Fourth: Men of the corps de ballet in "Etudes." Photo: David Amzallag.

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 Eva Kistrup



©2006 DanceView