The Golden Cockerel, Operaen, Copenhagen

Globe-trotting choreographer Alexei Ratmansky returns to Copenhagen, and the company in which he once danced, to reclaim another of the great Russian ballet scores languishing in the bottom drawer: Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel. Originally an opera, then an opera-ballet for Diaghilev – the success of the 1914 London and Paris seasons – it was reworked as a ballet in 1937 by Mikhail Fokine, its original choreographer, and then fell from performance after 1945.

This new version sees Richard Hudson’s scenery and costumes very much “after” Natalia Goncharova’s extraordinary concept, a visual cacophony of vibrant colour and abstracted shapes which evoke fairy-tale images of mythical Mother Russia in this comic satire of Tsarist ineptitude. It is glorious to behold, in essence a restoration to the stage of some of the most sumptuous scenography from a genius designer of the Ballets Russes.

Musically, all is well too: Rimsky’s original score was filleted for the 1937 one-hour ballet, but for Ratmansky’s full-evening work, it has been deftly re-orchestrated by musicologist Yannis Samprovalakis to include material which was originally sung. Det Kongelige Kapel orchestra wallows in its rich sonorities under Geoffrey Styles’ energising baton.

Ratmansky acknowledges and quotes Fokine’s choreography (film footage exists), so his new work emerges as a curious amalgam of past and present which, nevertheless, is unquestionably successful. He is, as are his Danish performers, steeped in mime, unafraid of large gesture, essential to the successful telling of this preposterous tale. The Cockerel herself (sic) is given movement of jerky brilliance, an impassive, even aggressive avian, cousine germaine to the Firebird and convincingly portrayed by the petite Lena-Maria Gruber.

But the main female role is the sultry, seductive Queen of Shemakhan, a sinuous Gudrun Bojesen looking like an Erté model, all poses and swoons. As in the Fokine, they are the only two on pointe, the rest being twirling peasant girls in boots; similarly, men are galumphing boyars or prancing soldiers with the exception of the two young princes who receive some beefed-up choreography, Gregory Dean in particular impressing with his unforced technique. At the centre of it all is Thomas Lund’s marvellously gullible yet ultimately tragic King Dodon, author of his own destruction; his is a masterclass of nuance and telling subtlety in comic performance. A gloriously entertaining evening.

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