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A Royal Danish Welcome

Orange County
Segerstrom Hall
05/27/2011 -  & 28, 29 May 2011
Edvard Helsted, H.S. Paulli, H.C. Lumbye, Louise Alenius : Napoli
Ulrik Birkkjær*/Alexander Stæger (Gennaro), Susanne Grinder*/Amy Watson (Teresina), Lis Jeppesen*/Mette Bødtcher (Veronica), Fernando Mora*/Tim Matiakis (Giacomo), Jean-Lucien Massot*/Morten Eggert (Peppo), The Royal Danish Ballet Corps de Ballet, Graham Bond (Conductor), Pacific Symphony
August Bournonville (Choreography), Sorella Englund & Nikolaj Hübbe (Choreography Second Act), Maja Ravn (Scenery and Costume Designer), Mikki Kunttu (Lighting Designer)

The familiar adage “reinventing the wheel” is an appropriate assessment of this new production (first seen in Copenhagen in 2009) spearheaded by Artistic Director Nikolaj Hübbe. Grounded in choreographer August Bournonville’s principal tradition, it, nonetheless, hones in on a 1950s Fellini approach without comprising the inherent integrity of the original work. Such flexibility found within the Royal Danish Ballet’s hallmark Napoli brings to stage an entertaining and vivid interpretation. After an absence of over 15 years, Orange County’s Segerstrom Hall is the privileged host to the American premiere of this beloved work from Denmark.

A complex mixture of undying consistency and variegated elegance since the ballet’s premiere on March 29, 1842 in Copenhagen, Denmark, each of the three acts is distinctly assigned to different composers and their distinctive style which yields a cohesive and memorable interpretation. The end result is a brilliant mélange of textured dance, pantomime and music. Bournonville would be proud.

The principal cast is titled with Ulrik Birkkjær as Gennaro and Suzanne Grinder in the role of Teresina. Nicely paired, both demonstrate the exacting Bournonville requisites, yet Birkkjær plays to the audience with greater warmth than Grinder; the pas de six is light, effervescent and delightful, especially their developpé. In keeping with the Bournonville trademark, male dancers are but one of the highlights in Napoli who demonstrate exemplary epaulements and pointe derriere.

A female pilgrim replaces the monk, Giacomo, as the spiritual intercessor between Gennaro and Teresina that creates more disjointedness and less cohesiveness. Lis Jeppersen’s Veronica is a tad overdrawn in mime, but she delivers rough and amusing footwork in the final celebratory féte.

Set against the nostalgic backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius in Act I, Maja Ravn also makes careful selection of accoutrements (i.e. a Vespa, crinoline petticoats, red high heels and purses, cat-eye glasses and pomade) to punctuate period placement. In contrast, Act II places emphasis on high tech visuals, drawing the audience deeper into the underwater reaches of the Blue Grotto. Upon Teresina’s arrival the corps of 15 Naiads perform superbly on pointe while shimmering in gradient tones of color and mottled rays of sun far above. This brilliant spectacle is accentuated by opting to forgo Niels W. Gade’s music and replacing it with Louise Alenius’ modernistic bent, reminiscent of Bernstein and Copeland. One selection not deviated is that of François Prume’s La Melancholie featuring the delightful violin solo as backdrop for reuniting the young lovers alongside Mikki Kunttu’s bathed silhouettes of hero and heroine.

(© Castin Radu)

While Acts I and II are predominately pantomime in nature (respectful to Bournonville), Act III pulls out all stops with the dizzying movements during H.C. Paulli’s “Tarantella” and H.C. Lumbye’s effervescent “Galop.” Undoubtely, one witnesses the inestimable acuities of graceful movement, flowing lines, impeccable synchronization, intricate footwork and happy faces. This is Bournonville at his best.

The Royal Danish Ballet brightens the sky with spectacular fireworks and is a sure bet to please all. This is one ballet production you don’t want to miss.

Christie Grimstad



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