Principals and soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet made a triumphal return to Jacob's Pillow.
The last showing of the Royal Danish Ballet performance at Jacob’s Pillow was disastrous. At the time in 2007, I wrote in The Daily Gazette that it was “humdrum” and “awful.”
But at the bottom of the review, I noted that Dane Nikolaj Hubbe was retiring from New York City Ballet and taking over the historic company. I concluded Hubbe gave me hope “that the Danes can bounce back to prominence.”
And they have.
As the featured company in the opening week at Jacob’s Pillow, the company looked sparkling, crisp and dashing. I’m bowled over by the transformation and relieved that one of the most important and oldest companies in the world has regained its footing on the world stage.
And to prove it, the principals and soloists from the company that dates back to 1748, danced a ballet’s greatest hits program – pas de deux from not only the Danish tradition, but also famed love duets from “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.” Then they topped it off with a vigorous rendering of “Napoli.” I couldn’t stop smiling.
There is a risk in a program primarily comprised of pas de deux because it can become monotonous. Not so here. Each one, from the pas de deux from “Dvorak” to that of “La Sylphide” opened the imagination. The feeling of each was distinctive and that came from the marvelous dancers who captured the persona of the characters behind the stories and the steps.
The most surprising was the “Black Swan” pas de deux with Holly Jean Dorger and Jonathan Chmelensky. The Danes proved that they could not only perform the light and pleasant August Bournonville ballets, which the company is known for, but the dramatic and flashy Russian ones too.
Dorger was sharp as the seductress, trapping the unsuspecting Prince into her deceptive web. Chmelensky, as the Prince, soared through the air again and again, begging for her love by the duet’s end.
The dancers have not betrayed their traditions, however. The fleet and complicated footwork that the Danes are known for is preserved. They simply primed it with an irrepressible showmanship. Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kaas exemplify this new boldness in the duet from Bournonville’s “The Kermesse in Bruges.” The courteous Danish style was vividly there, but turned up. I never seen Danish legs, that used to be modestly held at hip level, fly so high.
The souped up tradition was most evident in “Napoli.” It went from a genial gathering of friends in the town square to riotous, competitive romp with a tarantella that was irresistible and infectious.
I thank the ballet gods for leading Hubbe back to the company of his youth.
Misty Copeland as "Juliet"
I must admit, I’m a little behind on the Misty Copeland craze. I’ve seen her dance plenty of times and know her to be a fine dancer.
But it was not until American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet” on Saturday afternoon that I had the opportunity to see her in a lead role. And she deserve all the accolades and fans that have gathered at her beautifully, well-appointed feet.
Copeland is a dream Juliet. Her supple frame and gorgeous technique means she can throw herself with abandon into the arms of her Romeo, soar to the imaginary stars at their romance and stagger in despair over their impossible future.
But it is her acting abilities that make fans go misty for Misty. She transformed into a naive youth, smitten beyond all reason and so desperate in her love that she would embrace death before a life without Romeo. She was convincing.
So too was her partner, the equally amazing Daniil Simkin. He portrayed an ardent lover whose every caress and kiss trembled with a reverence for her and his luck to have found her. Simkin and Copeland simmered. I loved their chemistry.
Their artistic choices were inherent in the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan. In the balcony scene, one can see the shift from infatuation at the ball to true love. As he lifts her, she bends backwards over him, sending her foot skyward, again and again, signally their divine destiny as one, forever. And the kiss, one of adoration and desire, binds their union and disastrous fate.
Less impressive were the roles of Mercutio and Tybalt, danced by Arron Scott as and Roman Zhurbin. MacMillan focuses so precisely on the love, that the hatred between the Capulets and Montagues isn’t sharp. Even though Zhurbin’s body language clearly spoke loathing, the sword battle in the first act came off as staged, not a duel to the death of feuding families.
In addition, Scott sported Mercutio’s devil-may-care attitude. But his jumps, a specialty of Mercutio, were not clean or hearty. Scott looked labored.
The costumes and setting by Nicholas Georgiadis were incredible. He offered much for the eye to take in. From the billowing layers of fabric on the ball attire to the moving frieze that stood watch over the activity at the town square lent the ballet a rich, animated look.
Of course, the Prokofiev music, as conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, was well played. The orchestra dug deep to capture all the texture in the delicate passages for Romeo and Juliet alone and the frightening crashes when the two families clashed.
But what made this performance so special was Copeland and Simkin. Together, they were heart-breakingly wonderful.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba danced "Giselle" at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“Giselle” is one of the oldest surviving ballets. Dating back to 1841, not much predates it. And it remains, at least for me, the most romantic of Romantic ballets.
But often, productions can seem stale, quaint or just plain old-fashioned. This is not the case with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s rendering that was seen this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Everything about it -- the sets, the costumes and the dancing were impeccable. But what brought it to the level of undeniable beauty – was the choreography by Cuba’s iconic ballerina Alicia Alonso. A former member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, American Ballet Theatre and George Balanchine’s first New York troupe, American Ballet Caravan, Alonso learned from the best. And what she created in the second act – in which the vaporous Wilis devour men who betray them – was a scene of beauty and menace that is out of range for words.
Throughout her years as a dancer, Alonso was known for her Giselle – the delicate peasant girl who is wooed and falls for a handsome Royal, but dies when she learns he is engaged to another.
Alonso has clearly passed on her impassioned brilliance for the role to Grettel Morejon who portrayed the pretty innocent with heart-breaking fragility. Everyone in the seats truly believed she loves Albrecht; and Albrecht loves her. But when it is revealed that he is a duke, engaged to the glamorous Princess Bathilde, Giselle is shattered and dies.
The first act, in which we meet Giselle and her true love, starts as a happy one. It is harvest time and friends of Giselle are celebrating her betrothal. Hilarion, who is also in love with Giselle, is spoiling the levity by trying to insinuate himself between them. But nothing can dampen their joyous unity – until Albrecht’s deception is revealed.
The dancing was crisp and buoyant – a quartet of men showed the power of their Russian-based technique as they sprung straight in the air in hovering air splits. And the emotions, especially from Morejon, were delivered with convincing fervor.
The second act, however, demanded that the audience acknowledge Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s greatness and importance. The scenes with the Wilis – all in white with ankle-length tutus – extolled gorgeous precision and power. The band of 24 ghostly women hovered in the forest near Giselle’s grave. At first, they moved like a bouquet of crystal flowers rotating in the moonlight – a glowing, alluring vision.
Yet upon meeting Hilarion, who grieved at Giselle’s grave, they transformed into an army of single-minded steel, entrapping and killing him. Abrecht was next, but Giselle rose from her grave and begged the Wilis Queen, Myrtha, to let him pass unharmed.
As the Wilis dispersed, the duet with Morejon and Rafael Quenedit as Albrecht was sweet and touching. As the sun rose, Giselle slipped from his arms and melted back into her grave. Albrecht fell upon its bed, crushed with grief.