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Jack Anderson

The Danes at Jacob's Pillow

Dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Ted Shawn Theater, Becket, Mass.
July 11-15, 2007; $58.
Tickets and festival information: (413) 243-0745 or www.jacobspillow.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, July 14, 2007.

Frank Andersen, 1976 in "Napoli." Photo by Stephan Driscoll.

A little company called Dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet brought much Danish joy to Jacob's Pillow as part of the festival's 75th anniversary season. The Pillow appearances were the only American performances by these twelve dancers, who returned immediately to Denmark for touring engagements there.

A love affair between the Royal Danish Ballet and the Pillow began in 1954 when the Danish ballerina Inge Sand danced at the festival with Vladimir Dokoudovsky of the Ballet Russe. Ted Shawn, the Pillow's founder, thought her so charming that he invited her back the next year with a small group of Danish dancers, thereby introducing the Danish style to America. In 1976, Frank Andersen and Dinna Bjørn came with another Danish troupe, and similar ones have followed in later years. Frank Andersen now directs the Royal Danish Ballet and he and his wife, the ballet mistress Eva Kloborg, are the parents of Sebastian Kloborg, codirector of the present troupe with Ulrik Birkkjaer.

Like its predecessors, this ensemble features works by August Bournonville, the great 19th-century Danish Romantic choreographer, and the group includes such distinguished Bournonville stylists as Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund. But everyone looked at ease in the Bournonville excerpts.

Today, only excerpts survive from some of his ballets: for instance, the pas de deux from "Flower Festival at Genzano" and the Jockey Dance, originally part of "From Siberia to Moscow." The sparkling often-excerpted bits from extant longer works make their greatest impression when shown as parts of those complete ballets with their vivid characters and plot complications. But even out of context, these snippets reveal much about Bournonville's benign ethics and aesthetics.

Although ballet technique may be an extreme form of artifice, Bournonville used it to suggest real life. Even his ballets with supernatural characters also concern believable, and often ordinary, people. Thus Kizzy Howard and Lund did more than display intricate footwork in the "Flower Festival" duet; their crossings of the stage implied they were strolling lovers. And the way Lund's feet kept locking into proper placement was a sign of emotional as well as technical balance.

In all the Bournonville tidbits, the dancers preserved the contrasts between brilliant steps for the feet and calm arm positions that can be difficult for dancers trained in other styles to master. While the feet dart, arms may be held either in a low position or raised momentarily for emphasis; yet because the arms do not fling constantly about while the feet keep flashing, the choreography radiates poise and well-being, rather than agitation.

Thomas Lund in "Napoli." Photo by Henrik Stenberg.

The divertissements from the third act of "Napoli," with Bojesen and Lund as Teresina and Gennaro, effectively reached their climax in the breathless tarantella that is always a joy to behold. Mads Eriksen and Sebastian Kloborg had great fun portraying two rival galloping jockeys in the Jockey Dance, which vaudeville managers of a later era might have billed as a "novelty number."

Bournonville's lyricism was represented by a section of the second act of "La Sylphide," in which Diana Cuni skimmed ethereally, while the clearly articulated beats of Tim Matiakis indicated the ardor of the sylph's mortal lover. This segment from the complete ballet might have made a better impression if, instead of ending with the hero still jumping around without reaching a dramatic climax, it had concluded with the pictorially lovely pose preceding these exertions.

Three works exemplified post-Bournonville choreography. One came from Harald Lander, Denmark's leading choreographer of the early 20th-century. His "Festival Polonaise," a pas de deux of 1963 that drastically scales down a group work from 1942, is a curious piece filled with demanding steps, which Bojesen and Birkkjaer danced with aplomb. Yet the duet appears so crammed with steps as to resemble a small room overstuffed with furniture, and the scale of Johan Svendsen's music seems to require ensemble spaciousness.

Two younger choreographers contributed romps. Tim Rushton's "Triplex," for Cuni, Kloborg, and Alexander Staeger, punctuated a Bach keyboard concerto with twisting arms and thrusting hips. Louise Midjord, a member of the Royal Danish Ballet corps, offered a world premiere, "My Knees Are Cold," to a collage by B.J. Neweenko, Goran Bregovic, Cat Power, and Mulatu Astatke. Her choreography, influenced by jazz and hip-hop, veered back and forth between peppy sprints and casual shrugs. Although decidedly lively, it lacked a clear dramatic or thematic focus. Yet Elisabeth Dam, Christina L. Olsen, Staeger, and Kloborg cavorted through it with glee. Both the Rushton and the Midjord frolics could be regarded as choreographic equivalents of those lightweight comedies long associated with summer-theater fare.

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