of Denmark’ by Johan Kobborg
‘Festpolonaise,’ excerpt from
‘From Siberia to Moscow,’ pas de deux from ‘William Tell,’ ‘Afsked,’ ‘The
Lesson,’ excerpts from ‘Napoli’
2003 – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Johan Kobborg is to be roundly
applauded for the programme he has put together at the Queen Elizabeth
Hall as he has achieved something that is usually beyond the powers-that-be
at the Royal Ballet. He has thoughtfully put together a well balanced
and interesting evening of works that is thoroughly rewarding for the
Kobborg himself, together with regular partner Alina Cojocaru, opens the
programme in a piece totally unknown to me by Harold Lander dating from
1942 called “Festpolonaise.” To very tuneful music by Johan Svendson that
incorporates the familiar Irish air “Lillibullero,” the pair performs
a stylish classical pas de deux that shows off both their technical abilities
and their considerable charisma.
The next two items were Bournonville rarities, “The Jockey Dance” from
the ballet “From Siberia to Moscow,” followed by a pas de deux from the
Tyrolean Divertissement of the Rossini opera “William Tell.” The first
item features two jolly young men in racing silks galloping around brandishing
whips on imaginary horses, along (apparently), the banks of the River
Thames. This was followed by an amorous Alpine couple in pretty peasant
costumes. Not one of August B’s more memorable pieces I’m afraid, but
blonde Bethany Keating really looked the part and it wasn’t without some
The first act concluded with the world premiere of a work by that exceptionally
fine Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup. “Afsked” is Danish for “to depart”;
it depicts the end of a relationship and the sorrows of parting. Superbly
danced by Zenaida Yanowsky and Dylan Elmore, they dance out their pain
and remorse with a raw intensity. The sublime music by Boccherini gently
contrasted with the desperation of dying love while the choreography depicted
both anguish and resignation. The storm of applause that greeted the dancers
at the end was, I feel, as much because it had struck a universal chord
within the audience as it was appreciation of a profound and moving work.
After the interval came that amazing modern classic by Flemming Flindt,
“The Lesson.” Sadly neglected here in the UK, I last saw this ballet in
1977 danced by Vivi Flindt, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev. The setting
is a darkened ballet studio where overturned chairs and music manuscript
paper strewn across the floor indicate that all isn’t as it seems. A stiff,
unsmiling woman with a shawl pulled tight and protectively across her
torso (Yanowsky) begins to restore order. The bell rings and she reluctantly
admits a pretty, eager, young dance student (Cojocaru) who warms up at
the barre until the teacher (Kobborg) arrives. He is a gauche, awkward,
young man, clearly lacking any social graces. The class commences and
it becomes apparent that this man isn’t just a social inadequate, but
a crazed being unable to control a warped sexuality that develops into
hideous violence. The pianist flees and the helpless young girl is strangled
against the barre.
I felt that the proximity to the dancers at the QEH intensified the horror
one feels watching this ballet and the three dancers were staggeringly
good, chillingly convincing and terrifying to watch. Cojocaru was a cute
unsuspecting nymphet, transformed into a powerless, doomed victim and
that cool beauty, Yanowsky, was unrecognizable as the frosty, unbending
pianist, oddly complicit in this depiction of a serial killer at his grisly
work. As the demented ballet-master Kobborg was almost completely successful,
but I felt his youth told against him and there were a few odd laughs
shortly after his entrance. I remember Nureyev in this role, grizzled
and unkempt, a sinister presence from the start. Kobborg will grow in
this role. He is potentially the finest dancer-actor we have seen in years
and his performance in “The Lesson” was ultimately, totally commanding
in its gruesome intensity. His comparative youth though made me wonder
for the first time if the pianist could actually be the teacher’s mother.
It would explain her unfeeling acceptance of a crazed murderer.
Flemming Flindt himself took a curtain call at the end of the ballet,
giving us the opportunity to acknowledge the creator of one of the finest
dance dramas of the 20th century.
In the final piece of the evening it was back to Bournonville with the
familiar pas de six & tarantella from “Napoli.” Familiar to the audience
perhaps, but not to the Royal Ballet dancers accompanying Kobborg. Frankly
they were lacking that quality I always think of as the “Bournonville
Bounce,” though the girls seemed to be picking up the style a little more
readily than their male colleagues. The problem could be solved by the
Royal Ballet finding room for Bournonville in the repertory. This is always
a fun, uplifting divertissement and only the mean-spirited would dwell
on any minor shortcomings. Even if we can’t have “La Sylphide,” at least
this pas de six would be a start.
Finally, a message to Mr Kobborg: Can we have more of the same please?
Edited by Jeff.
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