ROYAL DANISH BALLET
July 23, 2019
I am no authority on August Bournonville, but our fleeting encounters, in
footage and history, leave me an unwavering, if casual, admirer. In a fortunate
seating accident, I watched The Bournonville Legacy at The Joyce alongside Anna
Kisselgoff (former chief dance critic of the NY Times), who shared with me her knowledge of the technique and repertoire.
While helpful, it did not alter my credibility, and I have nonetheless come to the
work as it was organized by Ulrik Bikkjaer – a crash course for the beginner; a
greatest hits album, performed by the ones who do it best.
La Sylphide opened skipping straight to the juicy middle. Madge, a witch, is
working with minions to create a diaphanous white scarf made from difficult to see,
though undeniably, dank ingredients. In the role is Tobias Praetorius. Men often
perform en travesti to highlight the ugliness of such characters; Praetorius remains
handsome in his ragged robe. His character work is as rigorous as any variation,
rousing his team and relishing the evil of his impending revenge.
Given that this selection of the Royal Danish Ballet is traveling lightly, such
performative vibrancy is essential to effective storytelling. When Marcin Kupinksi,
as James, chases Astrid Elbo’s Sylph, extremity in gaze and locomotion allow us to
mentally conjure a sprawling forest on a stage containing but an offset, miniature
This gender-swapped performance of preserved steps establishes the ballet
as a fairytale reflection of our time. Elbo is swift; James physically cannot flirt, so he
must chase this winged female egging him on with momentary breaches of personal
space. When James unwittingly kills her with Madge’s scarf, the backup sylphs
immediately become pallbearers as though it is to be expected that a periodic
confused earthly male will wreak accidental havoc as punishment for being rude to
a witch. Their world is chaotic, with unprotested senseless death within a specific
community, fueled by erotic misfire. So is ours.
A Bournonville Square lightens the air with a Cunningham-esque event of non-
exoticizing nods to social traditions with which Bournonville had contact – British
jockeys in From Siberia to Moscow, tarantellas in Napoli, and a ménage of folk dances
in The King’s Volunteers on Amager, all framing the Pas de Deux from The Kermesse
in Bruges, danced by Stephanie Gundorph and Jon Fransson in unparalleled
technical clarity of effervescent splendor.
This collaged pure dance marathon is ultimately made digestible by the
acting. Former soloist Sorella Englund is essentially sedentary yet integral to the
action, and Praetorius is sublime in his trumpet lip-synching as Napoli’s
Streetsinger. Across the board, their onstage watching demands from us the same
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews