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Edvard Helsted, H.S. Paulii, H.C. Lumbye, Louise Alenius: Napoli
(Choreography by Nikolaj Hübbe and Sorella Englund after August Bournonville)

Alban Lendorf (Gennaro), Alexandra Lo Sardo (Teresina), Benjamin Buza (Golfo), Lis Jeppesen (Veronica), Alba Nadal (Giovanina), Mette Bødtcher (Flora), Jean-Lucien Massot (Peppo), Fernando Mora (Giacomo), Poul Erik Hesselkilde (Pascarillo), Josephine Berggreen (Pilgrim), The Royal Danish Ballet Corps de Ballet and Royal Danish Orchestra, Graham Bond (Conductor), Maja Ravn (Set and Costume Designer), Mikki Kuntuu (Lighting Designer), Uffe Borgwardt and Peter Borgwardt (TV and Video Director), Nikolaj Hübbe and Sorella Englund (Stage Directors)
Live recording: Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen, Denmark (March 18, 2014) – 105’
Opus Arte DVD #OA 1195D or Blu-ray #OA BD7185D – Booklet in English and French (Distributed by Naxos of America)

August Bournonville would go on to follow in the footsteps of his father by preserving the integrity that was gradually fading away within French school of ballet at the time. Unlike Vaganova and Checchetti Methods, Bournonville’s technique distinguished itself with distinct élan and joie de vivre through humility and modesty. Napoli, Bournonville’s best known creation and cornerstone, is a virtual repertoire lynchpin and guiding light for any aspiring ballet dancer under Danish discipline. Viewing of a 1986 traditional production allowed an additional personal experience that was inculcated with Fellini-esque draws during a live 2011 performance (Read here). Both Nikolaj Hübbe and Sorella Englund masterminded both the 2011 and 2014 expressions, yet changes provoke interesting discussion.

Nikolaj Hübbe’s preface genially writes about the process of moving up the hierarchy ladder to more significant roles within Napoli. Mr. Hübbe (along with a handful of dancers on this DVD), is a recipient of such advancement. With continuity under his belt and now choreographer, he’s also cognizant of the fact that through time, change (in certain works) must be modified to retain relevancy without compromising underlying principal. Alas, this interpretation goes overboard in several ways.

While Graham Bond’s overall tempo is languid, Maja Ravn returns with the same sets, but with a bit more vibrancy in backdrops and richer colouring (Acts I and III only.) In contrast, Ms. Ravn injects a somber greyish color dress palette that cerebrally ‘fights’ with the pantomime vibrancy within Act I. Veronica’s brown dress, trimmed with flowers at the hemline, is dour, yet flashy reds add a bit of pizzazz to the prostitutes (obnoxious). No longer do we see expectant black knickers and white shirts on the men. The “Ballabile”, one of the strongest (if not the strongest) dance sections within Act I, presents the Danish men donning tank tops and Levi cut offs that focuses more on musculature (commendable) and physical prowess while detracting from Bournonville’s refinement of delicate footwork. There’s more of a feeling of being inside West Side Story with a couple of fish nets.

Mr. Hübbe is regrettably quoted, “We have elected to tone down the religious dimension in favour of the love story.” Josephine Berggreen’s pilgrim would have been better omitted than wandering about aimlessly even though she dresses in a diaphanous garb in Act I while her Act III dress looks as though she’s going to attend a fancy cocktail party, yet doesn’t know where to go. Why do away with Giacomo, the monk?

Let’s return to the intensification of the Gennaro/Teresina love connection. Alban Lendorf’s and Alexandra Lo Sardo’s dancing add excitement, but they don’t enthrall to the point of a pair expressing veritable passion. Lendorf’s positions and arabesques demonstrate a sense of sharpness and structure, not softness. Lo Sardo comes across a bit jarring but palely lithe.

Once again, the Hübbe/Englund team opted to forgo Niels W. Gade’s ravishing, idyllic music for the “Blue Grotto” and insert this with music by Louise Alenius. In this production, however, Ms. Alenius has created new music that is more abstract and aberrant than in the 2011 version. While Mikki Kunttu uses great lighting to create a modernistic underwater spectacle, the scrim opens up to dancers who seem to have come from an Orchesis Club convention. No Bournonville here, one would imagine. If one is a bit stultified with the overreaching additions/excesses of Act I, then Act II completely loses continuity, adding puzzling relevancy.

If something is fairly sacrosanct in this Napoli, then Bournonville would be proud and comforted by Act III. Mr. Hübbe doesn’t mess with this greatly. The female variations are all graceful, exhibiting demure developpé, but the pas de six is the one that shines most brightly with clean lines. Crowd pleasers, “Tarantella” and the “Finale” are fun and happy, but the costuming loses the traditional sense of peasant-expectant finery and gives a feeling of more havoc than ballet refinement.

From beginning to end, video editing under father and son team, Peter and Uffe Borgwardt is atrocious. Throughout various dance numbers, the camera suddenly cuts to nanosecond shots of people within the crowds, setting up quasi ‘mini-plots.’ What this technique does completely detracts from the beauty of watching Danish ballet footwork, by losing focus of flow and the lovely intricacy that has been a tradition ever since Bournonville took to instruction back in the 1800s. Examples of these excessive diversions include women chewing bubble gum, passing of a whisky bottle, smoking and throwing around cigarettes, attempted ‘advances’ by the men. From this reviewer’s point of view, these camera edit cuts just simply ‘dummy down’ Napoli.

The Royal Danish Ballet can do better. Return to the basics and build conservatively, conscientiously and cautiously.

Christie Grimstad




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