August Bournonville, choreographer, dancer, and ballet master from the 19th century, has created a beautiful repertoire of ballet that audiences today can still enjoy. The Royal Danish Ballet are proud in their dedication to his work and of their mastery of his very challenging choreography. For dancers today Bournonville is a symbol of the classical technique with its precision, its lightness, and its exquisite musicality. I know from my own years training as a dancer that dancing the steps of August Bournonville takes very precise training and attention to detail. The Royal Danish Ballet Soloists and Principals certainly understand the demands of his work and they perform with great skill, focus, and a wonderful joy.
This is the Royal Danish Ballet’s first trip to London for ten years and it must not be missed. It is rare to see an evening of dance that focuses so completely on the dance itself rather than complicating the experience with complex sets and lighting. The dancers have nothing to hide behind – thankfully, these highly professional dancers need nothing to hide behind. Their training is impressive and each dance has clearly been rehearsed in close detail. The evening opens with ‘A Folk Tale’, a romantic ballet from 1854 in which the dancers celebrate a wedding with a glorious pas de sept. The classical precision, the neat footwork, the impressive petit allegro, the lively energy, and the moving musicality, all make this stand out as a highly accomplished piece. The second number is a pas de deux from ‘The Flower Festival in Genzano’; playful comedy is mixed with beautiful clarity and there is a charming flirtatious connection between the two dancers. Third comes the hilarious Jockey Dance from ‘From Siberia to Moscow’. Two jockeys gallop comically around the stage, desperately trying to out-do one another with their elaborate footwork and jumps. For Bournonville, the jockey symbolises all that is English – perhaps he was referring to the politeness of their rivalry! The first Act finishes with ‘La Sylphide’ Act II. This classical gem, first performed by 1836, is exquisite in its tragic beauty. The story is told with great artistry of mime with the engaging role of the witch adding to the exotic nature of the ballet.
The second Act opens with a charming pas de trois from ‘The Conservatory’ and then finishes with the highlight of the evening: the pas de six and tarantella from ‘Napoli.’ It is a clever choice to finish the performance with such an uplifting and joyful dance – the dancers’ happiness is infectious and the audience is smiling throughout, right down to the final curtain call. The cast is consistently good with highlights from the lovely Diana Cuni and the highly engaging Gregory Dean. Dean’s stage presence is exciting and confident – certainly a dancer to watch develop. As a generalisation, the men seem more confident with Bournonville and he certainly is much kinder to male dancers. There is very little pas de deux and the men are given the scope to show off their excellent allegro and neat foot work. For the women, they have to cope with the same precision of allegro but in their heavy pointe shoes; however, this is testament to the quality of their dancing that they made very little noise in their shoes, dancing through the feet and with grace and elegance – not an easy feat!
While this performance might not interest someone completely new to ballet, it should be essential watching for all dance lovers. It is important to watch ballet in its most classical and technically demanding form and realise that all dancers should be striving to match attention to detail with the elegance, musicality, and harmony of the Royal Danish Ballet.