La Ventana/Kermesse in Bruges, Gamle Scene, Copenhagen – review

Tradition is what the Royal Danish Ballet is all about. Well, yes and no. Director Nikolaj Hübbe’s sometimes controversial policy of refreshing the core Bournonville repertoire is, in fact, exactly what has happened at regular intervals since the ballets were first created in the mid-1800s. It has been their salvation, as successive audiences have come to them afresh and not simply as museum visitors. Here Hübbe tries to establish a new generation of producers: company ballerina Gudrun Bojesen for La Ventana and ex-dancer Ib Andersen, now director of Arizona Ballet, for Bournonville’s only comedy, The Kermesse in Bruges.

La Ventana has always been “Spanish-lite”, a fashionable Iberian bagatelle, and far from Seville, with decorous rather than sultry movement and Lumbye’s “non-lascivious” music. Bojesen tries too hard to establish local colour with a contemporary Spanish bar set up on one side of the stage and some unwelcome, distinctly wonky Spanish-ish guitar and sung interpolations from the other. The famous mirror dance, sweetly delivered by Diana Cuni, makes little effect amid all the surrounding flim-flam, the ballet finally building momentum in the final fiesta when the dancers are allowed to dance. Only Alexander Stæger, as the Señor, truly shone in the airborne choreography, gamely overcoming an unfortunate ice-dance outfit. Steen Bjarke’s Cordoban plaza arcade, in warm lighting, is handsome.

The Kermesse in Bruges has to be funny, and Andersen’s finely judged production raises many a laugh by exploiting fully the company’s famed talents in mime. Jérôme Kaplan’s wholly successful sets and costumes are inspired by Dutch Old Master paintings, the town square a van Hooch brought to life. The company engages heart and soul in this uproarious tale of three brothers gifted magic talismans.

Jón Axel Fransson gives the toothiest of grins as the daft, mop-haired Gert, possessor of a magic ring and object of every woman’s all-too-obvious desire, and Jonathan Chmelensky impresses as the swashbuckling, high-leaping Adrian. The engaging Ida Pretorius performs strongly as Eleonore, a pleasing physical match for Alban Lendorf’s somewhat unsmiling third brother Carelis, who dances, nevertheless, in a state of airy Bournonvillean grace. Elsewhere the classical choreography is delivered with greater emphasis than some purists would wish, and the DR UnderholdningsOrkestret under Graham Bond respond potently to Paulli’s cheap period music.

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