The Lesson/La Sylphide, Old Stage, Copenhagen

It is not only The Killing that indicates a dark streak that runs through the Danes: two of their Royal Ballet’s most treasured and popular works, here presented together to open the new Copenhagen season, also deal with the murder of a young innocent. To place them together, one from the first half of the 19th century, the other from the second of the 20th, artfully highlights an historic artistic tradition.

Flemming Flindt’s grand guignol The Lesson, drawn from Eugène Ionesco’s play, is a tense, taut three-hander: the psychotic dancing master, his reluctant accompanist accomplice and the hapless victim, a moth destroyed in the guttering flame of his insanity. The freshness of this revival comes principally from the superb Ida Praetorius (an “apprentice” not yet a full member of the company), who has such youth and vitality that she merely has to be herself. Possessed of fine physique and technical ability, she already exhibits character and dramatic power. She is finally strangled by Mads Blangstrup’s twitching, sexually depraved teacher, who is driven to seek gratification in her murder. His was also a role debut and I hope he develops a little more underlying sadness in his interpretation as it deepens.

La Sylphide’s Walter Scott world of plaid and tartan (here evoked in lithographic illustrative style by Mikael Melbye’s sets and costumes) is a visual trap – this is simply a tale of cold, bitter revenge. Madge, a thrilling Jette Buchwald, implacably exacts her vengeance on Alban Lendorf’s unwitting James with the precision of a lancet. His mistake is to treat her roughly at his wedding preparations – how is he to know she is a witch and no ordinary crone? Rising star dancer Lendorf is a heated James, his impetuosity and violence bursting forth in Byronic anger. Similarly, his dancing literally explodes onto the stage – musical, technically brilliant, ineffably stylish, his solos high points indeed. A superb role debut. As the object of his doomed love, J’aime Crandall, the eponymous Sylphide, both crafts her dancing with obvious care and demonstrates an airy jump, but her upper body and arms are imprecise and, despite an affecting death, she looks altogether too earthily robust to convince fully as Bournonville’s airborne Romantic spirit.

Superbly passionate playing from Det Kongelige Kapel under Robert Reimer enhanced both performances of these deadly Danish masterpieces.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.