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Napoli is one of the great masterpieces of dance. It was staged by Bournonville in 1842, just after he returned from a long trip to Italy. He was enraptured by Neapolitan life, and he captured it in dance with marvellous skill. The passing years have brought a few changes to the text. (The second act, known for years as “the Bronnums act” after a restaurant in which balletomanes used to seek refuge from its longueurs, is set in the Blue Grotto at Capri, where Teresina, the heroine, has been abducted by a sea-sprite and is rescued by her beloved, Gennaro, a fisherman, with the aid of a holy amulet and has been much tinkered with.) But the dances in the last act are uniquely wonderful in their buoyant physicality, and Napoli remains a joy in the world.
It is also, and this explains my return to Copenhagen at the weekend, a fascinating study in the life of Danish dancers. My excuse was a celebratory performance to mark the jubilee of Eva Kloborg, dancer, teacher, producer, who was marking the 40th anniversary of her entry into the troupe. Given the enduring traditions of the Royal Danish Ballet, it is easy to chart her career from the varied roles she has danced in Napoli.
Like many a child from the ballet-school, she stood on the bridge that spans the décor in the last act, waving, clapping, gazing down at the artists who fizz over the stage. Accepted into the company, she danced in the pretty sextet of girls who weave through the first act, became a naiad soloist in the Blue Grotto, and then knew the demands of the solos in the last act, which unfailingly intoxicate audiences, the dance alight with happiness. The final accolade was Teresina, a role I recall Eva Kloborg playing with a lovely elegance, and bright-cut footwork.
Retirement from dancing meant teaching, producing and inheriting those character roles that Bournonville made so interesting, and which Royal Danish artists make so rewarding. (Amid the bustle of Napoli’s first act, a Lemonade Seller, a Macaroni Seller, a Ballad-singer – with attendant drummer! – are great gifts, and on Saturday night, Flemming Ryberg, Poul-Erik Hesselkilde and Mogens Boesen were irresistibly good.) So Eva Kloborg appeared as Teresina’s mother, Veronica. The role calls for charm, and a passage of tragedy when it seems that Teresina has been drowned: Kloborg made it gracious, vivid, and in its dark moment, piercing in grief.
The evening was, of course, of the happiest, and led by Thomas Lund and Gudrun Bojeson as the lovers with finesse in step and feeling. The entire troupe seemed on its most exuberant behaviour, and on a dynastic note, I record that Eva Kloborg’s son, Sebastian, was very sparky in the last act’s sextet. I also saw dance given by the company the night before at the Takkelloftet theatre (like Covent Garden’s Linbury) in Copenhagen’s splendid new Opera House. On view were two misbegotten moments: something sanctimonious and dated from Alvin Ailey, and an unspeakable event by the Czech dance-maker Petr Zuska, in which a couple did everything possible to themselves and to a kitchen table and chair. You might easily make your own at home, but I do not recommend it.
Fortunately Kim Brandstrup produced a new work in which he summons up five “ghosts” (his piece’s title) of creative experience while exploring the phrasing of his scores (by Ignaz, Vivaldi, Schnittke). The ravishing setting is made from light by Steven Scott; Brandstrup probes emotion, with particular sensitivity in a duet for two men. Balm after the tosh that had gone before.
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