writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Other casts in Napoli

The Royal Danish Ballet
Opera House
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
Wednesday & Thursday, January 14 & 15, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson


It's a tall order to conjure Naples, its down-to-earth salt-of-the-sea populace with temperaments as suddenly volcanic as Mt. Vesuvius and then as calm and clear as a cloudless Italian sky. But not just showing what's special about that city and citizenry, but letting the audience discover bonds these people have in common with the rest of humanity is the challange Royal Danish stagers and performers face every time the curtain goes up on August Bournonville's Napoli, a ballet in three very different acts.

Making these things happen is surprisingly independent of how well any given role is filled or how correctly any one solo is danced. Overall, Act 1 was best Thursday night, compared to Wednesday and the first night (Tuesday). Juices flowed from this act's street life start through the scattering of the crowd by a storm, to people being drawn as if by a magnate to the evidence of a disaster. Act 3 was best Wednesday, with the celebration—the Pas de Six, the Tarantella and the final Ballabile—danced as if the cast was really having fun. Attained was the purpose of the festivities—achieving satisfaction. Act 2 remained a problem, as ever.

Individual performances do, of course, matter. Fleming Ryberg, formerly an elegant first dancer, is now a mime of star caliber. As the lemonade vendor Peppo on Wednesday, he was sour with bite. Peppo would like to see the hero, Gennaro, accused of being in league with the devil, and Ryberg handles the role by suggesting that the devil really resides within Peppo. It is hard to tear one's eyes away from such a consummate performer in order to follow the hero and heroine.

Jean-Lucien Massot, as Gennaro on Wednesday, was an engaging hero. He's part charmer, part young male animal. He has the well shaped (though hairy) legs needed to go with the lightly-striped short shorts of the traditional Neapolitan fisherman's costume. As a dancer, Massot jumps big and turns multiply but without the ease and upper body elegance for Bournonvillean harmony. Thomas Lund, on Thursday, was a Gennaro of a different order. This hero has bravado but also doubts, he is a thinking fisherman who tries to understand himself, fate and God. Lund nearly turns Gennaro into a noble role, but allows some sod and brine to cling to it. As a dancer, he has a utilitarian body at this stage of his career, yet a technique so vital that it reshapes and refines him anatomically as he moves. Clarity and dynamic control show, but not at the expense of spontaneity.

Teresina isn't so spunky heroine that she lacks tenderness. Wednesday, Caroline Cavallo looked like a dancer acting the character. Thursday, Tina Højlund's Teresina was the character first, then the dancer. As a dancer, Højlund's ability to pause suddenly and hold finely honed figures is noteworthy. Neither performer suggested that Teresina learned a lesson from her experience in the Blue Grotto and as a result grew as a person.

Among this ballet's many characters, Fra Ambrosio, is as essential as cement. Without his authority and dedication, plot and motivations fall apart. Tommy Frishøi functioned ably in this role both nights, being convincing in an economical way. As Veronica, the ballet's mother and future mother-in-law figure, Kirsten Simone supplied apt detail on Wednesday. Thursday, Lis Jeppesen gave Veronica some very individual and youthful traits, decorously so. The Street Singer, Pascarillo, was also youthful in Thomas Flindt Jeppesen's rendering on Thursday. Flindt Jeppesen hasn't the full mastery of Ryberg in the part, but he's on his way. Among the dancers, I was fascinated by two very different body types, streamlined Silja Schandorff and more rotund Femke Molbach Slot. To convey resonance and harmony, Schandorff (in Act 3's fourth female solo—the girl with blue as her signal color), did not fight or hide her height and length of limb. She used them not directionally, as vectors, but deliciously as volume to mold and cushion movement. Slot, as the redhaired of the three Ladies on Wednesday and Thursday, naturally has the gentle lift, generous width and resilience that goes so well with Bournonville technique. She reminds me of Ruth Andersen, a Royal Danish dancer in the 1950s, who bounded forward as if about to embrace of the world. (Tuesday, Slot had danced the blue girl full out, but she performed this part injured on the weekend.)

The Royal Danish Ballet was recognizably itself during this Washington visit. It needs strengthening to tackle the Bournonville Festival planned for summer of 2005, but hopefully it will not be the anonymous strength of "international" companies one can find examples of everywhere. The eight personable children who danced downstage in these performances of Napoli are a hopeful omen.

Photos, both by Martin Mydtskov Rønne:
First:  Caroline Cavallo as Teresina and Jean Luc Massot as Gennaro, with Tommy  Frishøi as Peppo, in Act I of Napoli.
Second:  Tina Højlund (Teresina) and Peter Bo Bendixen (Golfo) in Act II.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 3
January 19, 2004

© 2004 George Jackson




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