‘Out of Denmark’ by Johan Kobborg

‘Festpolonaise,’ excerpt from ‘From Siberia to Moscow,’ pas de deux from ‘William Tell,’ ‘Afsked,’ ‘The Lesson,’ excerpts from ‘Napoli’

by Stuart Sweeney

September 2003 – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

"Out of Denmark" had many positive features, including the innovative, underlying concept of an evening of Danish choreography in London. The superlative dancing of Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru graced the evening, and with top price tickets at £20, the programme was a great bargain for ballet lovers despite the often-bare stage and inadequate quality of much of the recorded music.

Ricardo Cervera and Bethany Keating brought much style to their Bournonville dances and we saw the premiere of an excellent new duet, "Afsked," by Kim Brandstrup. The parting of two lovers provided the frame for this distinctive and sensuous modern dance work, which you can easily imagine appearing at vasrious galas. Brandstrup’s choreography gave Zenaida Yanowsky the material to weave sad magic, ably supported by Dylan Elmore.

However, I found Flemming Flindt's "The Lesson" a problematic treatment of an abusive dance teacher-student relationship. I have no difficulty with dark ballets in general and Cathy Marston's "Facing Viv" and Christopher Bruce's "Swansong" resonate with psychological insight and compassion. Whether the abuse and murder of a girl student can ever be satisfactorily presented in dance is a debatable point, but this work impressed me as as a gratuitous use of the material for dramatic effect and little else. This is in marked contrast to the treatment of a similar theme in the film “M,” where Peter Lorre also portrays a child killer. However, Lorre underplays the role and the film’s Director, Fritz Lang, explores society’s reactions and prejudices and finally makes us sympathetic for the plight of the obsessive central figure. “The Lesson’s” crude dramatics provide no equivalent underpinning and a tendency to caricature magnifies the hollowness of Flindt's approach. If Cojocaru, Yanovsky and Kobborg cannot make it work I doubt anyone can.

It’s only fair to report that many admired the work and the performance received loud applause. In addition, Debra Craine in The Times praised the ballet, together with the majority of the critics. If it seems that I have dwelt too long on this section of the programme, my antipathy to “The Lesson” dominated the evening and the charming lightness of touch of the excerpts from Bournonville’s “Napoli,” which followed, did little to soothe my anger.

I certainly hope for more evenings of chamber ballet in London with a similarly imaginative format and I would see this programme again if it returns. Nevertheless, in future “The Lesson” will always find me propping the bar.

Edited by Jeff.

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